Betty Blue, dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix, wr. Jean-Jacques Beineix, based on the novel "37°2 le matin" by Philippe Djian, st. Jean-Hugues Anglade, Béatrice Dalle
27 years after its initial release, Beineix' iconic Betty Blue is released in dizzyingly high-definition courtesy of Second Sight Films - a transfer that finally does respectful justice to Jean-François Robin's exceptionally high-dynamically-ranged du look cinematography that damn-near pops off the screen with clarity and saturation. My only copy up until now has been a battered VHS copy of the film recorded from Channel 4 many moons ago, but even back then, it was possible to see what made the film so enthrallingly immersive. Reception to movies changes as we grow: such is the nature of how we respond to the world as we evolve. But Betty and Zorg's hedonistic affair, carnal and liberatingly abandoned, only communicated its sense of intoxicating lovelorn escapism to a pre-teen kid such as myself. All heart with none of the heartache. As an adult, Betty Blue reminds us that commitment is a transaction. It's a compromise, a promise. It also reminds us the role those we fall in love with play long after they've gone, in shaping our lives, giving navigation to our meandering ambition.
For Zorg (Anglade), a beach-shack-dwelling handyman, life is simple. The breeze rolls in from the ocean, there's always an open beer on hand, and chilli bubbling on the stove. Then one day, without warning (for as these types of stories go, there never is), in walks the polka-dot dressed Betty, tired of the unwelcome male gaze from her previous job as a waitress, and looking for amnesty from misogyny. Béatrice Dalle, in what was her debut role, comes straight from Djian's original manuscript; pouty- and potty-mouthed with equal ferocity, volatile, vivacious and impassioned to the point of self-destruction, Betty is the embodiment of the type of contradictory woman men are supposed to want to be with. A woman that can devour them one moment, yet exhibit vulnerability and a need for protection the next. After one of her many tantrums (this time it's Betty's frustration at Zorg's subservience to his oily boss), she discovers the many volumes of Zorg's novel he's been composing over the years. She spends the entire night consuming them before typing up every page, convinced he's destined for better things. For Zorg, this casual fling soon evolves into love, a soulful and unintentioned all-absorbing union. But as the relationship rattles along, it soon emerges that Betty is more fragile than initially thought. There are hints from their beach-house days that a deeper trauma may exist in her past, one that initially pushes her into Zorg's arms, but for the most part, it is her bi-polared condition and Zorg's defiant struggle to comfort and love her in spite of it that anchors the relationship between the lovers and elevates Betty Blue to a higher plain.
But there are lighter moments too. The film isn't above slipping into near-slapstick moments of levity, as in a scene in which a billy-bollock naked Zorg attempts to pull out a sofa-bed with a comedy broom while Betty, equally de-clothed, enthusiastically sets about loosening the release pedal with a hammer. Combined with the authentic and intimate love scenes and breezy nudity on display, the cumulative result is a film that truly defies convention with an enviable self-assurance. A Director's Cut that adds an extra 50% on to the original running time expands on Betty's tragic descent from sanity and introduces a number of fringe characters, but the Theatrical Cut is equally concise and compelling. Betty Blue has aged remarkably well. Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Warmest Colour may be the current benchmark for plaudit-winning dramatic legitimacy, but Beineix' film and its remarkable performances from Anglade and Dalle lay the groundwork.