JEAN-JACQUES BEINEIX surveys the room through tired eyes. It's clear the past two days have taken their toll on the 54-year-old French director. He holds out his hand, manages a smile but still looks shell-shocked. There was the long flight into town to take his place as a director-in-focus at the 25th Hong Kong International Film Festival. Then there was last Friday's opening-night festivities, which included a screening of Mortal Transfer, his first full-length feature in eight years. Next was the early morning wake-up call the next day so he could make the screening of Diva, the second of his films to feature at this year's festival. It's no wonder the looming threat posed by an afternoon of interviews has him looking less than enthused. Beineix makes his way across the interview room and flops into the corner of a leather couch. Dishevelled but designer-savvy with shaven head, loose grey jacket over black T-shirt, cargo pants and trainers, he displays that effortless style Frenchmen seem to have stamped somewhere deep in their genes. Leaning back, he rests his head on his hand, smiles again and apologises for his jet lag-induced lethargy. Yet, though Beineix may be exhausted, when the pleasantries are over and we get down to talking film, passion soon takes hold. Fantasies, Beineix says, got him into the film industry. 'Fairy tales, stories read to me by my grandfather, all those sort of things.' But it has been a rocky road since he started out making eight-millimetre shorts as a 16-year-old in and around Paris' 17th arrondissement. By 1970, Beineix had landed a job as an assistant director for Jean-Louis Trintignant and Claude Berri; by 1977 he had made his debut as a director, with the short film Chien De Monsieur Michel. But it was Beineix's debut feature, 1981's Diva, that really set the film world on its ear. Made for around US$1 million (HK$7.8 million), Diva is a cool thriller centred on a young mail boy, the opera singer he is fixated with and the illegal recording the boy has made of one of her concerts. The movie dragged film noir kicking and screaming into the style-and object-obsessed 1980s. Quirky plot shifts, strange characters and a dense atmosphere are all part of its charm. The film won Beineix a Cesar (the French equivalent of Hollywood's Oscars) for best first film, grossed more than US$10 million, and became one of the most influential films of the past 20 years. What a way to start. But for Beineix, it was hardly film-industry fairy tale. When asked how the success of Diva affected him as a young film-maker, Beineix sighs softly and shakes his head. '[Diva] started as a failure,' he says. 'When it came out in France, it was totally destroyed by the critics. They hated the picture. Basically the film was 'discovered' at the Toronto Film Festival , and then it went on to be a huge success in America. But I considered it still a failure because I always thought back to that first reaction.' That reaction in his homeland had a profound effect on the director ('I lost my confidence and never really got it back') and his relationship with the French film critics whose opinions still have a direct influence on the success or failure of a film - a notion that no longer holds sway in most countries. 'They were wrong on Diva,' says Beineix. 'Diva was a public success but it was a critical failure. And I made a mistake when I said to them that they were wrong. So they really haven't forgotten that.' Indeed, Beineix has since weathered a hate-hate relationship with the French press. Home-town critics were less than enthused by his 1983 follow-up La Lune Dans Le Caniveau (The Moon In The Gutter), which brought together stars Gerard Depardieu and Natassja Kinski, and they were lukewarm over 37.2 Le Matin (Betty Blue) in 1986, which was met with as much or even more acclaim than that drawn by Diva (Betty Blue was nominated for a best foreign film Oscar). Similarly his Roselyne Et Les Lions (Roselyne And The Lions) in 1989 and IP5: L'ile Aux Pachydermes (IP5: The Island Of The Pachyderms) in 1992 continued to build his reputation overseas but failed to find much - if any - support at home. The answer for Beineix was to drop out of film-making almost entirely. He made a few well-received documentaries - including Otaku (1992), his look at Japanese men and their fixation with all things cyber - but the bulk of his work came through his role as president of France's ARP organisation, looking after the interests of writers, directors and producers. He pushed the French Government to introduce laws that would protect the local film industry and limit Hollywood's attempts to Californicate with French cinema. These efforts met with some success but, in the end, he saw the only way to force the issue was to enter the fray himself and become a politician - an option he found unattractive to say the least. 'As far as the film industry goes, consumerism has replaced ideology everywhere,' Beineix says. 'The demands now are for immediate gratification. People go to cinema to get thrilled, get excited rather than to think. They don't want to be challenged. But when you get out of the cinema, you'll notice that it's just oblivion - people have no memory of what they've just seen. A good film for me is not this, it's something that obliges you to think, gives you some things to share with people, some things to talk about.' And therein lies the problem with the Hollywood influence. The bigger the global film market becomes, the more money there is involved and the less chance there is of studios taking a chance with a film, or a new director. 'Hollywood is in a state of crisis like Detroit was years ago,' Beineix says. 'In Detroit, they were making cars that were not adapted to the needs of consumers. And I think Hollywood is at exactly the same stage. It's a mono-market, and because it is a monopoly, they have a habit of repeating the same product again and again. But I see more and more people all over the world are getting tired of the pieces of shit they are selling us.' Beineix's hiatus was also a time of deep introspection - his mother had died and he wondered for a while whether he would ever return to feature film-making, such was the level of his disillusionment. As he revealed to Time magazine earlier this year, he underwent psychoanalysis to help with his grief. When he finally returned to the fray, the concept of therapy would play a major role. Mortal Transfer tells the tale of Paris psychoanalyst Michel (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who finds himself caught in a web of murder, theft and intrigue. While listening to an attractive female patient talk of her sadomasochistic - and quite enjoyable - relationship with her husband, Michel falls asleep. When he wakes, he finds the patient strangled and from there he's led from crisis to crisis as he tries to deal with the problem of having a dead body on his hands. True to Beineix's earlier works, Mortal Transfer is high on style and humour - and boasts an intelligent script told in a dreamlike manner. But, also true to form, the French critics came baying at his door. 'They were very brutal with this film - a point picked up in Time and Variety magazines which, incidentally, both gave the film high praise,' he says. 'Sometimes this has led me to thinking maybe I should make a film in Hong Kong, or in New Zealand, under another name, because I do feel the pressure.' Be this as it may, but he still has hope - both for himself and for the film industry as a whole. 'I think artists are very sensitive to what's going on in society,' he says. 'And cinema, as an art, is very important in establishing a cultural identity. Slowly the community of artists have fought back. 'This happened in France and it is happening everywhere else. I think it's important for people in Hong Kong, for example, to understand that their own cinema is being watched all over the world. I think they don't really realise that and they don't realise the enormous amount of publicity this brings their country. 'And they should understand that they should be proud of this, and they should help their own people.'