It was a very influential and much talked about movie on its release in 1986 in France, but I’ve just recently caught up with the director’s cut that adds almost an hour to the running time. The original French title is ‘37.2°C le matin’ which is apparently the normal morning temperature of a pregnant woman and was based on the novel of the same name by Philippe Djian.
The extra hour may have helped director Jean-Jacques Beineix achieve his original vision, but in my mind Betty Blue is seared in the memory thanks to its first thirty minutes, where we find Betty and her new boyfriend Zorg in the early stages of their flaming love affair and living in a shack on a beach in the south-west of France.
Everything you need to know about Betty Blue is contained in those first thirty minutes of lust, rebellion and imminent underlying despair. Then their life goes up in sudden flames when Betty hurls a lantern into their wooden shack and they flee into the gathering Mediterranean darkness and the rest of their lives.
The first scene sees Betty and Zorg seemingly making non-simulated love under a poster of the Mona Lisa, but Betty’s real explosion onto the screen is when she arrives unannounced at Zorg’s door, wearing little more than an apron and some red shoes, carrying her life in a small suitcase. It’s all downhill from there.
The problem with Betty Blue is that everyone, including the director, seems to objectivize Betty. She seems to be a cipher, a representation of sexual and social freedom rather than a fully formed character. She is frustrated by everything and although he appears to love her deeply and devote himself to her very survival, even Zorg seems unable to penetrate Betty’s exterior, to understand the cause of her unhappiness and eventual descent into illness.
This is perhaps because Betty the character is perhaps too much Betty the stylish 80’s icon rather, than a flesh and blood character we can empathize with. Maybe Beineix stays too close to the source material, when what was needed was a more lyrical, image-driven study of the intensity of new relationships, as evidenced by the power and vibrancy of the first thirty minutes of the film.
It’s the imagery and the style of Betty Blue that has lasted and remained fresh, while the plot and narrative now seems tired and relentlessly gloomy in its outcome.
Betty Blue lives on in the imagery and the cinematic explosion Béatrice Dalle and Jean-Jacques Beineix created at the very start of the former’s career. It’s a pity Ms Dalle was never able, or allowed, to reach such levels of iconic status in the subsequent films she went on to make. Anyway, there will always be Betty who needed to be so much more than just another object of desire.