If you have ever loved someone with great intensity – and against all common sense – you will understand this film perfectly. It is one of the greatest portrayals of that dilemma.
Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is a shy, happy-go-lucky handyman and aspiring writer already in the throws of passion with Betty (22-year-old Béatrice Dalle in her acting debut), a beautiful, free-spirited and probably manic-depressive young woman.
Betty has trouble with authority and tends to get violent when provoked. Zorg finds her manic behaviour and cavalier demeanour refreshing as a counterbalance to his own tendency to withdraw.
After Zorg’s boss makes too many unreasonable demands, Betty tosses everything out of their little chalet and torches it.
Apparently, arson doesn’t phase Zorg, so they set out in search of a better life. They take up a semi-nomadic existence together working in a restaurant for a time and then managing a piano shop.
It turns out Zorg has written a hefty-sized book though he is fairly apathetic about it. Betty believes passionately in Zorg’s talent and expends tremendous energy attempting to get the book published. Every publisher’s rejection contributes to the downturn in Betty’s mood.
The deeper Zorg falls in love with Betty, the more he dismisses her unstable behaviour.
Inevitably, Betty’s insanity is triggered so dramatically as to leave no doubt to its presence. When Zorg’s book finally achieves success she is too damaged for the news to mean anything to her.
Much of the mystique surrounding Betty Blue comes from its eroticism. It is a very graphic film to be sure, but it is not gratuitous. There is a strong expression of mutual pleasure and commitment between the lovers, and there are many other scenes outside the bedroom portraying their tenderness and companionship.
It’s become a tirelessly repeated cliché that no 1980s student digs was complete without a poster of Betty Blue on the walls, and it’s certainly true that clever marketing (including a savvy retitling from the original: 37° 2 le matin) resulted in a film that achieved real crossover success in the UK, becoming the signature film of the ‘cinema du look’ movement.
NB: The Director’s Cut clocks in at 185 minutes and should only be approached if you already love the general release version.
Consuelo De Haviland