Betty Blue (1986)

Jean-Jacques Beineix directs Jean-Hugues Anglade, Béatrice Dalle and Consuelo de Haviland in this erotic drama about a writer’s relationship with his troubled yet beautiful girlfriend.

*** Warning! Spoilers! ***

Everyone remembers the first act. The painting of the beach huts. The raw thrusting. The home destroying tantrums. Fiery. Dalle is a wonder boy. She never even got close to reaching these heights again… even in the later parts of the very movie that made her an icon of the Eighties… what heights though! Gap toothed, open and always moving. Delectable whether clothed or undressed (there’s plenty of male nudity too), bonkers but just on the right side of annoying. You shouldn’t fuck crazy but she makes a convincing counter argument. Oh so French! Oh-La-La!

Cinema Du Look. Beineix challenges naturalism throughout, especially with his exteriors. This is often about mood and emotion more than logic or plot. At three hours, Betty Blue is a challenge and the third act goes off the rails in more ways than one. There’s multiple reasons for this. Even though Dalle’s Betty’s mental health deteriorates extremely from ‘cute menace to society’ to a ‘genuinely at risk individual’ her screentime diminishes. Even by the end of the second hour it feels like the spotlight is no longer being equitably shared and she shifts into the background a jot too much. There are compelling but blind siding subplots (drag robbery, piano delivery) that add little to the central relationship.

I think (and this is my own personal interpretation) that is because we are seeing Anglade’s Zorg’s fantasy as a struggling writer. Betty fills a gap beyond sexual desire, wild companionship and emotional support. She rebels against the drudgery of his day jobs creating dramatic exits from the stifling need to earn a wage, whether by arson or fork stabbing. She openly interrogates his self respect as a man and as an artist. She does all the boring admin grunt work towards getting him published. The typing up, the sending out, the conscious rejecting of the rejection letters. And once he makes steps towards being a writing success their relationship begins to fracture. She has needs beyond sex and encouraging her aspiring author – she wants a family, to reshape their world – and it tears her reality apart. There’s definitely a metaphor about creation in her emotionally shattering failed pregnancy. He begins to dress convincingly like a woman, indulge in more dangerous behaviours, eventually euthanising the better half who might be a lunatic but served to keep him on the right track to being a publishing success. His ultimate masterpiece is about the very woman whose life force he has spent getting to the next stage of his writing career. Ironic exploitation to the max. Betty Blue isn’t just his unhinged dream woman but his fairy godmother, possibly a high functioning split personality. And when her volatile service is no longer needed he emerges mature, she dead. And even if I’m wrong about all this supposing, it is a beautiful fucked-up marathon of experiences.


Perfect Double Bill: Diva (1981)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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