Blu-ray Review: Betty Blue

STUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Jean-Jacques Beineix | CAST: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Béatrice Dalle, Gérard Darmon, Consuelo De Haviland, Clémentine Célarié
RELEASE DATE: 11/19/19 | PRICE: DVD $17.97, Blu-ray $22.97
BONUSES: hour-long 2013 documentary; short video “Making of Betty Blue”; 1977 Beineix short film “Le chien de Monsieur Michel”; 1986 interview with Beineix and Dalle; Dalle screen test
SPECS: NR | 185 min. | Foreign language drama-romance | 1.66:1 widescreen | mono | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

It isn’t just coincidence that the French coined the term l’amour fou. The beautifully crafted 1986 love story Betty Blue is a perfect example of l’amour tres fou, as its lead couple share both love and lust but also become commingled in crazy behavior that liberates one partner and consumes the other. It’s an invigorating work that moves in several directions, from drama to comedy to action, but it is first and foremost a tale of compulsive, addictive love.

Filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix was still riding high off of the 1981 success of Diva (with the intervening Moon in the Gutter quickly forgotten) when he made Betty, which is an adaptation of Philippe Djian’s novel 37°2 le matin (the French title for the film, which translates as “37.2 degrees in the morning”). The film was a great success in France and the U.S. at its original running time of 121 mins.

It garnered such excellent reviews (and a strong afterlife on VHS and cable) that Beineix’s original three-hour cut was eventually released. It is that epic-length, tangent-rich version of the film that is found on this Criterion release.

The plot focuses on Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade, Captain Marleau), who is working as a handyman when he meets the impetuous, hot-blooded and slightly dangerous Betty (Beatrice Dalle, Domain). The couple move from town to town and circumstance to circumstance, with Betty’s impetuous behavior emboldening Zorg to become slightly crazy himself. In the film’s third act it becomes apparent that Zorg can revert to normal behavior, but Betty can’t — she is mentally ill and not long for this world.

The episodic nature of the film made it comprehensible in its shorter form, but the restored hour-plus of material makes certain things — such as why our hero dresses in drag visit Betty at the end — a bit clearer. The “new” material includes some wonderful scenes, introducing more of the impulsive, eccentric behavior that leads up to a tragedy in the third act.

Beineix took care to showcase the sexier side of the couple’s relationship — the opening scene is a slow zoom into them making love. Both lovers are often nude, but the focus remains on their “crazy love,” which seems even more intense in the director’s cut, despite the many restored humorous interludes.

The supplements include an early short by Beineix, “Le chien de Monsieur Michel” (1977), which concerns a cash-strapped apartment-dweller who asks his local butcher for scraps for his dog (which he himself consumes, having no money for food — and no dog!). The short is by turns oddly comic and touching, and one can see how it led the way to Diva and Betty Blue.

Dalle is seen in an early screen test that is essentially an interview, where she discusses (among other things) sleazy photographers for whom she did photo shoots at the start of her career.

In a TV interview with Beineix and Dalle conducted in ’86, the filmmaker notes that what he cut out of the novel were its “purely literary” elements, while keeping intact the “passion” of the piece.

In another vintage interview, author Djian and Beineix are interviewed about the transition from novel to film. Beineix neatly sums the two lead characters by saying that “She’s everything he’s not.” He also maintains that Betty has a “mythic” quality as the film moves on.

The main supplement is a 2013 documentary made by David Gregory for Severin Films. The doc covers a lot of ground and includes comments by all the central personalities involved in the film. Beineix is the main interviewee, discussing everything from his discovery of the novel to working on the poster and the derivation of the international title Betty Blue.

He explains that the film takes place in an unspecified place and time (although certain Eighties signposts contradict that statement). He also supplies the single most interesting fact about the film when he notes that Dalle and Anglade became a real-life couple as the shoot continued.

Cinematographer Jean-François Robin notes that he worked to give the film’s opening sequences a “warm and sun-drenched” look. He agrees with Beineix that the 185-minute version is the only “real” version of the Betty Blue, calling the two-hour abridgement “an amputation.” For their part, Anglade and producer Claudie Ossard disagree, saying that the shorter version dispensed with some wholly unnecessary scenes.

The stars contribute the most memorable quotes in the package, with Anglade making the spot-on comment that Betty and Zorg share a “crazy, reciprocal love.” Dalle, on the other hand, notes her continued gratitude that she scored the lead role in the film, saying “It was either that or shoplifting….”


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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”