The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - Betty Blue (1986) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - Betty Blue (1986)

The iconic French movie receives a hi-def release from Second Sight Films.

Directed by: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Starring: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Béatrice Dalle, Gérard Darmon

The Movie:

The film that put the phwoar into French cinema finally gets a release onto Blu-Ray, including both the cinema version and the three hour long director's cut. The poster for the movie adorned many a cine-literate intellectual students flatshare. By being both brazenly cinematic and unabashed in its sexuality, it managed to transcend the art house and set the template for how French Cinema was viewed for the Video generation.
Its reputation as a sex film possibly made it the most fast forwarded video of the eighties; there is a lot of chat in-between the sex. What sealed its reputation is a very intense, sweaty, realistic and, for the time, graphic moment of intimacy that opens the film. In truth this is more of a character piece with a refreshingly even handed approach to nudity. It has the recognisable quality of a relaxed familiar relationship, albeit one that goes spectacularly off the rails. It is the simple tale of a caretaker for a group of beach front chalets called Zorg (Anglade) who aspires to be a writer. The arrival of Betty (Dalle) in his life turns everything upside down. She acts as his muse and inspiration, taking him out of his tired routine and inspiring his passion and self belief. It is only as their relationship blooms that Betty becomes increasingly volatile, her self destructive tendencies putting the relationship in jeopardy.
Beineix was at the vanguard of the Cinema du Look; along with Luc Besson and Leos Carax they ushered in a new wave of French Cinema, one that took the visual aesthetic of the advertising world, a lush, beautiful but vacant style coupled with pop cultural references and high minded art-house ideals. It seemed like the future, but now it has dated badly, at its worst looking like a Duran Duran video. Besson has never been able to recapture the success of Leon, producing turgid action movies and the occasional directed work to little success. Carax has only just returned to filmmaking with his divisive Holy Motors and Beineix has disappeared from directing altogether it seems.
Out of all the Cinema du Look films, Betty Blue has dated the least. Time has been kind to it, the visual style is rich and earthy but naturalistic. It is immensely stylized but also uses that style subtly in the service of the actors. This is a film that foregrounds character, the look in the service of the action. It is a delicate balancing act and one, for the most part, that works harmoniously.
Beatrice Dalle’s performance is the best special effect a director can have, unabashed, uninhibited, with a genuine air of uncontrollable volatility. It is a powerhouse of a debut performance. Some films are impossible to imagine without the lead actress and this is one of them. It’s a lightning in a bottle performance and one Dalle has never been able to repeat. She is also assisted by Anglade’s performance, which manages to transcend the struggling misunderstood writer cliche and turn him into a flesh and blood, convincing human being.
The most problematic area of this film is the sexual politics, it is a film that prioritises the male gaze; Betty Blue is the manic pixie girl who out pixies all others. As a character she is completely at the service of Zorg. It is woman as fantasy object, her every action forcing him to better himself, her sexual availability to him never under question. Betty seems only to exist when Zorg is there, her life and existence one of servitude. It is only Dalle’s performance that transcends this; her ultimate collapse is moving only because the power and life she has invested in Betty makes her real. Zorg’s final act can then be interpreted as an act of mercy or the shrugging off of an encumbrance that he no longer requires.
It would be doing Beineix a disservice to criticise this approach vigorously; he clearly views it as a fairytale. It is the passion of young love; they are cocooned from the outside world, able to move with ease from location to location with no real worries both financially or geographically. This is cinema as love, his only interest the power of that emotion. Its simplicity and purity in that sense is why it’s the perfect film if you are a teenager or in your early twenties. That time of solipsism when romance and lust is idealized, when relationships, friends and aspirations are the most important thing in your world, which is of course how it should be. Watching with older, more cynical eyes makes for a more jaundiced experience, the love story seems less powerful, more flimsy, too idealized. Beineix would ask you to look with a purer heart, and maybe you should too.
The film has never looked better, the transfer is rich and gorgeous and the sound is in lossless 2:0. The question is do you go for the director's cut or theatrical version? The theatrical version, as you would expect, has a swifter cleaner narrative structure. Betty may fall apart quicker in this version, but it is more of a relationship of equals. The longer director's cut does add some more delicate shading to Betty’s predicament; the loss of her child is more prominent in this cut. It adds vignettes revolving around Zorg, some fun, some rubbish (a robbery in drag is a particular lowlight) which add little to the narrative but tip the balance to make this more of a story about Zorg. This makes the idea that Betty is an imagined fantasy figure conjured for his inspiration more compelling. Both cuts have their flaws, but are worth seeing.
This is still the ne plus ultra of eighties French cinema. If you loved film in that decade, at least once in your life it was your favorite film, a film that is worth revisiting after all these years. Like catching up with an old girlfriend or boyfriend, you can see the flaws now, and it may be a bittersweet experience but one still worthy of your time.
The extras:

Second Sight have commissioned a 60 minute documentary for this release, and it’s a great one. All the major players are involved, and everyone has fond memories of the film. Beatrice Dalle, who has something of a reputation, talks about her disdain for some of Beineix's sartorial choices and her anxiety about performing nude. Beineix, chatting in English, is articulate and engaging. Gabriel Yared, talking about the music and creation of the themes for the film, is particularly interesting. A very worthwhile companion to the film. You also get Beatrice Dalle’s screen-test. Even in these rough four minutes you can see the mixture of defiance, sexuality and innocence that epitomized the titular character.

Jason Abbey