Betty Blue: Unrated Director’s Cut
May 8, 2005
Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue (1986) brilliantly captures the rise and fall of a tumultuous relationship between a man and a woman. For years, North Americans have only had access to the truncated two-hour version. Now, the nice folks at Columbia have finally released the three-hour director’s cut on DVD.
Betty (Dalle) and Zorg (Anglade) are passionate lovers who live in a shack on the beach. He works as a handyman who does odd jobs to pay the bills. As the film begins, they have only been going out for a week and are in that stage where they can’t keep their hands off each other. It is that initial blush of romance where one has to be with the other every minute of the day. Zorg narrates the story of their relationship via voiceover. He describes Betty, “like a flower with translucent antennae and a mauve plastic heart.” She yearns for a better life and quit her last job because she was sexually harassed by her boss.
Zorg’s boss asks him to pain the 500 shacks that populate the beach—a fact that he keeps from Betty who thinks they only have to do one. So, she attacks the project with enthusiasm that quickly turns to anger once she learns the real deal. It is the first hint of a wild, impetuous side as she furiously covers the boss’ car with pink paint. She doesn’t like to see Zorg being taken advantage of, as she tells him, “How can I love you if I can’t admire you?” He argues that they should enjoy what they have but this isn’t good enough for Betty.
Beineix really takes the time to let us get to know and care about Betty and Zorg. For example, during a nasty fight, Betty accidentally discovers a series of notebooks that contain a novel Zorg wrote years ago. She reads it and falls in love with him even more. She then makes it her mission in life to type every hand-written page and get it published.
Beatrice Dalle and Jean-Hughes Anglade have a fantastic chemistry together—crucial to a film like this where they are the main characters on-screen almost all the time. The ease and comfort level between them feels genuine. Their characters are fascinating role-reversals as Betty is the aggressor in the relationship while Zorg is more passive. While Dalle has been rightly praised for her fierce, incredible performance, Anglade as the tougher role and displays more subtlety. He hints at Zorg’s backstory: a past of regrets that has robbed him of the passion that Betty has, but their relationship rekindles it. He learns what it means to truly love someone. She also rekindles his desire to write.
Betty Blue is beautifully shot by Jean-Francois Robin. One would be hard pressed to forget the opening image of Zorg driving home with the setting sun behind him or the famous shot of his beach house in the evening. They are so impressive that they become burned in your memory, lingering long after the film ends.
Betty Blue does what few North American pictures do. It actually takes the time to show all the little details of a relationship: the arguments, the fights and making up. Watching this three-hour director’s cut; one feels as if they have really seen a full-developed relationship depicted on-screen instead of merely a snapshot of one. There is none of the usual Hollywood clichés—this is a genuinely moving relationship between two fully-realized, three-dimensional characters. There is no phony glamour (although, Dalle is very beautiful looking), just simple people leading their lives and dealing with complex emotions.