372 le matin

(Betty Blue, France - 1986)

by Mike Lorefice
7/25/07

Cast: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Beatrice Dalle, Gerard Darmon, Consuelo De Haviland, Clementine Celarie, Jacques Mathou
Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Screenplay: Jean-Jacques Beineix from Philippe Djian's novel
Cinematography: Jean-Francois Robin
Composer: Gabriel Yared
Runtime: 185 minutes

“Life’s got it in for me. As soon as I want something, I realize I can’t have it.” – Betty

Perhaps the key to Jean-Jacques Beineix’s work lies in the fact he’s also a painter. Beineix shapes reality to his liking, making it grander, more bizarre and symbolic. His feature films tend to be purposely overblown, melding thriller, comedy, eroticism, farce, irony, surrealism, and meditation all artistically stylized into a series of wacky, and in this case tragic, episodes that are highly accessible.

Beineix isn’t too interested in logic or reality. He’s original for reshaping things in an entertaining way. He inserts Godardian asides, Woody Allen sketches, whatever his imagination cooks up for the fun of it. In the case of Diva and Betty Blue, many people around the world enthusiastically joined in.

Everything is left open for interpretation. Betty may be nothing more than a figment of Zorg’s imaginative mind, a character in the novel he’s writing. This isn’t really a film to ponder though. You get swept away by the mood, Gabriel Yared’s catchy carnival theme, the palpable heat, and the painterly framing and use of color to illuminate and contrast. Love it or hate it, it’s an experience, and that alone puts it above the predictable standardized assaults that fill the screens at the box office near you, and those near everyone else.

Zorg (Jean Hugues Anglade) is an easy-going ennui ridden handyman who probably wrote a novel to attain or regain some sense of being alive. We suspect the publishers may well be right about him being a lousy writer because he shows no great intelligence or gift for language and description, but to naive Betty he’s surely the greatest living author, and she loves him that much more for it. High-strung fiercely independent Betty (Beatrice Dalle) completes Zorg in every way, but as is always the case some of what Zorg was missing he was better off without.

Anything or anyone who tries to reign in freedom loving Betty in any way is liable to set her off. The 20-year-old is passionate about everything, which makes her a great lover, but she’s still in child in many ways, throwing tantrums when things don’t go her way. When Betty’s intense, often violent rage against those who offend her doesn’t achieve the desired results, she increasingly battles herself with self-destruction graduating to self-mutilation.

From the outset, their personalities almost dictate that Zorg cannot win. But when you in love, or perhaps in need, you are willing to lose because at least you are still playing the game. Betty is a dominant unstable force who won’t be changed, so Zorg doesn’t even try. He initially sits by and watches, but eventually winds up coddling her deficiencies and taking on some of her traits unstable traits. Zorg constantly struggles to keep things afloat, as Betty is such a high maintenance bridge burner they can rarely stay in any area long enough for him to settle into a job, much less establish himself.

The 2-hour version with all the dreamy artistic scenes focuses more on Betty’s descent into madness, while the 3-hour version adds scenes of day to day life and shifts the focus to Zorg’s desperate attempts to protect his fragile love. He loves her unconditionally, and as such will do anything to keep them together. It’s through the dull monotony of daily rituals that we understand why he doesn’t dump the nutcase and return to his empty solitary life. Not only is she the only one that believes in him, her presence brightens and enlivens his life in so many ways. They have really good times together, but unfortunately they too often go remarkably bad.

Few films match the passion of Betty Blue in any regard. 37°2 le matin is actually a love story, and that’s a key to it being so hot. I think one reason few erotic films are respected is they are rarely about people who are together for any length of time. Sex and nudity are more or less eliminated from cinematic depictions of those relationships; it’s like taking a dump, you hopefully do it regularly enough there’s no point in showing it. And there’s certainly a puritanical faction that doesn’t want to promote what keeps partners as partners (unless it’s all about the beloved children). A war movie and an action movie can both be about violence, but it’s like a romance must be about love and thus can’t have too much sex and erotica must be about sex and thus can’t have too much sex. I realize this sounds stupid, but how many nudity filled movies have you seen that weren’t either the Last Tango in Paris anonymous screwing until it gets old or the Basic Instinct sex equals violence and death? Yet if you think about it, a lot of the sexiest movies don’t have any nudity (for reasons other than the performers wouldn’t do any or the producers knew it needed to be a PG-13) and there’s nothing less erotic than porn. The point is whether you express something through it, which Beineix does through his color coding and the actors do in every way. The fiery romantic passion is the highlight for their slow days, and we sense Zorg knows he couldn’t get that from a woman as laid back as himself, but in a sense Betty’s problem is she cannot choose where to channel her passion. The slowness and dullness of the long hot days leads to it being directed elsewhere, against others and ultimately herself.

The chemistry between the leads is superb. They are so comfortable with themselves and each other, we believe this is a truly deep bond. No matter how private the moment, they are so relaxed (maybe not the best description of Dalle, but she displays no tension beyond that which her character is supposed to). It never seems like Anglade and Dalle are being filmed; they are not the least bit self-conscious. Natural beauty Dalle goes around half-naked like someone who, having grown up on a tropical deserted island, had no reason to dress, and isn’t in a Hollywood movie where no frame of nipple can be left uncovered by the hair extensions. Considering her passionate protests and run ins with the law, perhaps this is Dalle’s best performance because it isn’t as far from the truth as we’d hope. In any case, it’s one of the great debut performances. Anglade is sensitive and caring enough to keep fighting for the woman who fights for him and his novel whether he wants her to or not. It’s through his mix of confidence and desire that we don’t laugh him off the screen when we know he’s acting as crazy as Betty to try to save her, and them.

An insanely independent spirit losing her mind and eventually leading to a mercy killing when she’ll never be Betty again, never be free, is far more credible than exhausting every sports movie and sexist overcoming cliche for the vast majority of the film then, with a sudden highly contrived turn, allowing Clint Eastwood to make his calculated highly manipulative and incredibly cheap political points. I don’t have any issue with assisted suicide, I balk at the shadiness of the incorporation. I can make this review have as much to do with mercy killing as Million Dollar Baby simply by ending with the statement that my coach is going to put me out of my misery now.

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