There’s an inexplicable sting to Jean-Jacque Beineix’s 1986 French film, BETTY BLUE that entails a surplus of emotions befallen onto a couple in a plot making little to no sense. Today it would be looked at as an erotic, cult classic, but it's also a bloated art film. As stated in the very definition of “Cinema du look” as its purpose is pure spectacle over any substantial narrative. This is important, because I’m going to completely refute the previous statement by finding significance in all the spectacle. I didn’t see it at first, but trust me guys it’s there and it’s going to blow your minds.
In two words, this film is an atomic bomb and I mean that as an expressive metaphor for the relationship these two characters share because it’s fascinating to watch yet detrimentally harmful to one’s mental stability. In fact the relationship of Betty (Béatrice Dalle) and Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is a slow motion explosion, and as it radiates the sky with bits of lust, it invisibly protrudes fragments of toxicity. Their relationship embodies the extremity to something of a dubious circus act and what’s subtle and striking is its hinted in the music. There’s a handful of scenes where you can hear the chimes of circus music playing in the background. Whether that was intentional or not remains to be seen but certainly warns the viewer of the insanity it foreshadows. Now entering a circus shit show.
The first half of the film is this blossoming romance, where it's hot and heavy, while the second half becomes a minefield of psychological warfare where almost anything and everything is a trigger. Which makes me question, what was the trigger for Betty? At one point she becomes pregnant and after some time, its revealed from a lab test as being negative which makes her spiral into a deep depression. Okay that makes sense. When there’s so much hope and promise to suddenly be taken away, one would feel pretty much like shit. Her grief strongly evolves into some unbalanced territory where she becomes violent and hears voices in her head and acts out in very irrational ways. And it all spirals so quickly you almost feel like you’re being whiplashed while watching the trainwreck crash then crash again. Betty doesn’t move forward. She remains captive to her own grief which delivers her to self mutilation by gauging out her own eyeball. Does this narrative sound familiar? The challenging provocativeness, where grief and unbalanced emotions are at the forefront. Can’t believe I’m about to write this but, BETTY BLUE is a softer version of Lars Von Trier’s 2009 film ANTICHRIST. It’s one that I can never erase from my mind as long as I live but the significance these two films share is uncanny to a degree because the themes of beautiful cinematography and grief are unmatched. For those who have seen ANTICHRIST, what does Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character do? She mutilates herself. Why? Grief. What caused the grief? The loss of a child. A loss of the promise and hope of something she made with her own body. GONE. Something that can never truly be healed. I can’t fathom the loss of a child but I imagine it’s the worst possible pain in the world. Betty also suffers the broken promise and loss of a child that never was.
I feel for Betty. I really do. Her emotional intelligence flares itself hap-hazardously all across the screen. It's the entire premise leaving little room for anything or anyone else. In fact, her erratic unpredictable behavior on one hand and her need to nurture on the other is a heavy contrast to how mother nature acts. Her character is interesting but the story that orbits her doesn’t always seem to fit because we’re also viewing it from a man’s perspective. Think about how Humbert writes about Lolita, its creepy and poetic but also a decadent piece of literature. Her lover Zorg, seems to lack such authenticity, along with the mental capacity to really care for her the way a concerned significant other would and not based on his own selfishness. Humbert worshipped Lolita in many immoral ways. Maybe this is why Betty ends up gouging her eye out leaving her catatonic in the end while Zorg resumes his writing. Betty has destroyed herself. Maybe it’s a combination of selfishness and guilt, but whatever it is, their moral compass is severely whack just as the story of Lolita, yet it's held as a controversial creation so much as this film attempts to be. Of course I have not read the novel by Philippe Djian from which this film is based on so it could be just good.
As this rocky, stylized romance progresses the couple romps all around France for the duration of their relationship. And what’s weird is that we never learn how these two met. Betty being the persistent type, ails Zorg to further his writing and to not be so submissive taking on handyman type jobs which in Betty’s eyes should be beneath him. It’s actually endearing when she stays up all night reading his work becoming fully infatuated with what she perceives to be brilliance and maybe this is what really blindsides her to this idea of "love". Or perhaps it’s the catalyst to her tragic unfolding which juxtaposes to Zorg needing a job for stability something that’s severely lacking in their courtship which ironically sketches the foreshadowing of how the relationship falls apart. Every time there was no stability things got crazy.
Aside from the whirlwind that is heavy subject matter, BETTY BLUE delivers some very outrageous moments such as when she throws pink paint on a porsche of the man who owns all the small cabins on the beach in which Zorg was responsible for repainting without alluding to the fact that Betty, wouldn’t be paid for her help. I get it, Zorg was trying to protect her but fails because Betty’s nature is so unpredictable almost as if her instinct could sniff out bullshit. Of course there are other moments where the couple moves to another town and takes a job at a pizzeria which brings out Betty’s violent frustrations especially when it comes to customer service. She does not tolerate sassy patrons and ends up stabbing someone with a fork. Shortly after this outburst, they end up joining, Eddy the owner of the pizzeria after he finds out his mother passed away. The couple agrees to live in his mother’s house and run a piano shop. Not strange at all. There’s also the moment where Zorg hides his rejection letters from Betty until she discovers them, loses her temper, then all hell really breaks loose when they proceed to enter the publisher’s house, have a confrontation, ending with Betty slashing the man’s face. So, yes all the violence comes from Betty's inability to control her mood swings which also provides majority of the entertainment.
Looking as deeply as I could into this movie, I realized it’s not just about someone’s unbalanced, emotional state of being, but the underlying issue that causes it which is a multitude of things. Grief, instability, anxiety, depression, a sense of self loathing, and when you combine it all together you get a lethal cocktail of where mood conquers everything. I wanted to be captivated but felt like I was drowning in the heavy tragedy that became of Betty. I wanted this character to fight back, find some meaning in her pain, utilizing some medium of art to unleash the horrors in her head. There was no moment of relief and smothering her to death with a pillow doesn’t count! Instead we're struck with subtlety. Blatant subtlety which is an oxymoron, but As outlandish as everything became within the story there's a slick maneuver the filmmaker utilizes and its not revealed until the very last shot of the film. Think about this shot. Zorg is in his apartment, sitting at his typewriter, resuming his writing, completely indulged in a world and a character he’s created. The ending could be contrasted to the likes of THE WIZARD OF OZ or ALICE IN WONDERLAND, where it was all a dream. However, in this instance, Betty was never real at all because it was all built from Zorg's erotic fantasy as a writer. There's a blatant shot of a boiling pot of water on the stove that's seen in the beginning and the ending which symbolizes and concludes the passage of time. Different stove, different time of day, different pot. Interesting way to pull the table cloth out from underneath a film full of maddening pizazz.