French director Jean-Jacques Beineix, best know for his films Diva and Betty Blue, hasn’t amassed a huge directorial output over the years nor has he achieved a terribly strong following, but his work stands as an important entry in international cinema.
Cinema Libre Studio is doing its part to increase awareness of Beineix, releasing six DVD titles as part of The Jean-Jacques Beineix Collection over the next several months, a number of which have been previously unreleased in the United States.
The first release is Locked-In Syndrome, which actually includes two other films as well. This collection is a bit of a hodgepodge, with two documentaries and one short film — Beineix’s first — included, but the variety presented shows Beineix’s skill whether in narrative or nonfiction form.
Locked-In Syndrome, produced for television in 1997, documents the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French ELLE magazine who was hit with an unexpected stroke and awoke from a coma with a fully functioning brain, but an inability to move, save for the muscle in his left eyelid. He learned to communicate with that eyelid using an alphabetical system correlated to blinking, and wrote a memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Bauby’s story was told in the stunningly beautiful 2007 film of the same name, and Beineix’s Locked-In Syndrome serves as a wonderful companion piece. The documentary utilizes extremely sparse narration, opting instead to place the viewer at Bauby’s bedside, watching as he struggles to communicate and write his book in the necessarily painstaking process.
The 26-minute film is the clear highlight of this DVD — it’s both captivating and heartbreaking, and reveals Beineix’s deft hand at crafting an insightful, but not intrusive, documentary.
Also included is Beineix’s first film, a darkly whimsical 15-minute short called Mr. Michel’s Dog, released in 1977. Michel is both lonely and poor, so he begins to pretend he owns a dog, garnering scraps from the butcher that he actually eats himself. Trouble is, the neighbors in his apartment are annoyed with the make-believe animal’s incessant barking.
Mr. Michel’s Dog earned a César nomination for best short fiction film, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a highly accomplished tragicomic tale that packs in a lot in only 15 minutes.
Rounding out the disc is Otaku, a 76-minute documentary from 1994. The film explores the somewhat nebulous conception of Otaku culture in Japan — the word can mean many things, but always relates to some sort of obsessive behavior. Everything from anime to teen pop stars to dolls to violence is obsessed over, and Beineix captures an often-disturbing picture of the fetishistic behavior that results.
Otaku is quite thorough, featuring interviews with people across the spectrum of obsession. Because the film tries to look at so many different types of obsessions, it tends to seem a little unfocused at times, but the breadth of material it covers certainly works in the film’s advantage.
An unfortunate technical downside is the constant presence of a narrator translating into English. Subtitles would have been a much better option, as the narrator translates both for the person asking the questions (presumably Beineix) and the interviewees, which can be somewhat confusing.
The first title in The Jean-Jacques Beineix Collection is a solid one, featuring three different kinds of films that work on their own merits. The five remaining titles in the series will be released one per month through November.