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January 15, 2006

Betty Blue

bettyblue.jpg

37.2 Le Matin
Jean-Jacques Beineix - 1986
Columbia Pictures Region 1 DVD

It's been almost twenty years since I saw Betty Blue in a theater. I can't really point out the differences between the complete three hour version and the two hour version I saw other than that the film feels more leisurely than I recall. There is more time devoted to the other characters. I can't even say if this version on DVD is more sexually explicit that the theatrical version. The question going through my mind during much of the film was, what ever happened to Jean-Jacques Beineix.

Beineix made his initial splash with Diva. The biggest surprise may have been that an exciting film could be made concerning a rabid opera fan and bootleg tapes. Moon in the Gutter turned out to be a disappointment in spite of starring Gerard Depardieu and Nattasja Kinski. That Betty Blue was sexually explicit even in its initial release did not prevent it from being an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as a multiple nominee for the French Cesar Awards. Based on the descriptions of his films made since then, Beineix has not lived up to the promise of his earlier films. Still, one is surprised when a filmmaker who is the subject of critical praise falls off the radar so quickly and completely as Beineix has following Betty Blue.

The English language title is somewhat misleading as the character played by Beatrice Dalle is simply known as Betty. The film is about that favorite French subject, l'amour fou or "crazy love". Jacques Rivette even made a film titled L'Amour Fou. Truffaut's Story of Adele H. is covers the same emotional territory. Marco Bellochio's Devil in the Flesh, which I wrote about earlier, is similar in being an explicit film about mad, obsessive love. Beineix follows Dalle, as Betty, a waitress who moves in on Jean-Hugues Anglade, as Zorg, a handyman at a low-rent beach resort. Over time, the couple take on greater risks being with each other, with Betty's volititily initially counterbalanced by Zorg's reticence, which eventually gives way to responding to Betty with increasing extremes in taking risks or with anti-social behavior.

If Betty Blue isn't quite the masterpiece I remember, it is still worth watching as an examination of the outward and inward destructive impulses motivated by love at its most extreme. This was also the film that introduced Beatrice Dalle to the world. Beineix may not have had the career that he or his fans anticipated. Still, even if the name of the filmmaker is not remembered directly, the face of Beatrice Dalle guarantees that Beineix will not be totally forgotten.

Posted by peter at January 15, 2006 06:57 PM

Comments

Peter, I think the director who has made best use of Dalle is Claire Denis, in I Can't Sleep, Trouble Every Day, The Intruder, etc. I also enjoyed her little turn in Assayas's Clean. Jules & Jim is one of my fave l'amour fou films.

Posted by: girish at January 16, 2006 08:01 PM

Peter--here's a technicality for you.
Not sure if Adele H. would count as un film l'amour fou.
The amour has to be two-way and not unrequited, no?
I suspect that simply one person being fou may not do the trick...
More research needed...

Posted by: girish at January 16, 2006 11:51 PM

I am assuming that l'amour fou can be recipricol or not. Maybe we need some French filmmakers and critics, or at least someone more fluent in French than me to weigh in here on the subject.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at January 17, 2006 09:41 AM

Years ago, Betty Blue was a very important film for me. I still have a soft spot for it, but can now see its flaws and weaknesses.

In my opinion, the director's cut changes the film substantially. Yes, we wind up in the same place, but I think the tragic nature of the tale is enhanced by giving us nearly an hour more of Betty and her descent into madness. I think Zorg comes off as far more sympathetic in the longer version -- the often desperate measures he takes to help Betty are heartbreaking.

Dalle has never been as good as she is here, though I thought she came close in Trouble Every Day.

Posted by: Filmbrain at January 17, 2006 10:30 AM