If you could hop in a DeLorean and gun it back to a late ‘80s, early ‘90s student bedroom there is a good chance you’d be graced with the iconic poster for Betty Blue. It was the type of film to perfectly capture the bohemian lifestyle of a student; getting by on little money, wiling away the hours drinking, trying to finish that book you hope to be published and having sex until the sun came up. But does Betty Blue hold up once that degree has come through and the realities of life have hit home?
Based on Philippe Dejan’s novel, Betty Blue opens with a voice over from protagonist Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) informing us that he had known Betty (Béatrice Dalle) for a week, they’d made love every night and “the forecast was for storms”. Because while Betty is a free spirited little nymph on the surface she is also prone to bouts of extreme anger and rage.
Director Jean-Jacques Beineix starts as he means to go on, opening with a prolonged scene of Betty writhing in bed with Zorg. It’s the sort of film that basks in a lurid, scorching, sexual heat, the characters often dripping in sweat and passion. But, while many may dismiss it as such, the sex is never to titillate but rather show Betty for the siren like character she is, men unable to keep their eyes off her while she gently simmers.
But it’s not all about sex (sorry), Betty Blue allows for a wonderful, passionate love story with moments of genuinely funny slapstick comedy thrown in when you least expect it. The scene of Zorg and Betty trying to open a sofa-bed, as naked as the day they were born, is warm, affectionate and worryingly familiar. As Zorg highlights though, those storms are always just around the corner, Betty often bordering on psychosis, at one point going so far as to actually stab a woman with a fork.
But more than anything Betty Blue is a veritable orgasm for the eyes. The sort of film that has been crying out for a Blu-ray release, the colour pallet pops in a similar fashion to the aesthetic of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie; vibrant and quintessentially French. While Beineix lets his lens linger on the hell’s angel that is Betty, Jean-François Robin’s cinematography is achingly beautiful. Throw-in one of those memorable soundtracks you’ll immediately have to add to a playlist and Betty Blue is a treat from beginning to end.
Anglade as Zorg is wonderfully engaging, a bit of a lay about, a bit of a deep thinker but more than anything a romantic. The film is very much his journey, the shy writer who needs nothing more than the unadulterated affections of Betty to give his life meaning. Dalle is simply captivating, the sort of role that should have seen her go on to become a superstar it is nonetheless still hugely impactful. It’s the way in which, even when at her most ferocious and hostile Dalle manages to imbue Betty with a sense of innocent wistfulness. Below the anger is a girl desperate for affection but governed by uncontrollable swings from euphoria to depression.
Often indulgent but always achingly bitter sweet, Betty Blue remains a sumptuous cult classic.