When’s the last time you walked out of a movie theatre feeling like you hadn’t been ripped off? Am I the only person whose mind wasn’t bent or blown by Inception? Ellen was there to walk you through it after all. $20+ with the stale popcorn to watch someone fold Paris in half, I can do that with a post card. Stale popcorn/stale movies, I couldn’t even drag myself to see Black Swan. Anyway, I was walking down Bank Hey Street in Blackpool about 25 years ago and I thought I’d have a bit of a bob about in HMV, (which was a large, high street store that used to sell music CDs, videos and INXS posters. (Or Heather Locklear posters if you were in the US)). And there, stacked up on an endcap, was a French movie called Betty Blue, in french! I was immediately drawn to the (award-winning) poster.
‘They’re taking a bit of a gamble putting a movie with subtitles on a big display aren’t they?’ I thought to myself. ‘This is Blackpool after all, not Leeds. It looks really good though. What’s it all about? 37 degrees centigrade in the morning? That must be really hot then.’ I didn’t know too much about celsius or French Movies and they were asking some astronomical price like 12 quid for it – all my drinking money for the week basically. But, I bought it anyway.
There are only a few movies that I’ve watched over and over again. The Graduate, Annie Hall, Withnail and I & Betty Blue. It turns out that it was a fantastic movie, containing everything that the British secretly love about the French but hate the French too much to admit; Healthy uninhibited sex, smoking cigarettes with panache and attacking rude people with sharp metal objects. Betty Blue has all of this in spades, as well as – something else the Brits can envy – extended periods of sunshine, in fact, most of the movie takes place in a cinematically perfect sunrise or sunset, with skies like blood oranges on sapphire.
So I get it home, thinking how cool all my friends are going to think I am owning a French Film and everything and how they’re all going to want to borrow it and stuff. I slap it in and not knowing what to expect and the opening scene turns out to be two people on a bed, on the other side of a room, doing it. Now this isn’t the kind of slow mo, filtered, closed eyed, fake ecstasy, hollywood sex that we’re all familiar with. This is two people, who’ve only been seeing each other for a week, completely in sync, lost in the moment and making love ‘for real’. Then the camera slowly, slowly starts approaching the bed and you feel like an intruder, recognising that yes, this is exactly what it’s like and well, you kind of want to give them some privacy but of course, you can’t look away.
Zorg is pushing 30 and cooling his heels in a dead-end job, but he has a nice pad and works in the sunshine and seems happy enough, but a few years ago he wrote a crazy, kinetic splat of a novel that the world surely needs to read, but right now it’s just stuck in a closet. Enter Betty, a young, sexually charged, whack job who crash lands in his life, discovers his novel & literally burns his house down to get him moving again. And off they go, to Paris and beyond, having increasingly crazy adventures and meeting weird and weirder folk as Zorg gets closer to a book deal and Betty slowly succumbs to absolute madness.
The great thing about this movie, apart from the way it looks, is that it’s a true tragi-comic masterpiece; it’s really funny, slapstick, wacky, bizarre and also really sad; wonderful free spirited girl who’d do anything to keep her guy, can’t help loosing her mind. Beatrice Dalle, one suspects, could not act her way out of a paper bag, (although she did play a convincing blind person in A Night on Earth) but in this movie she doesn’t have to, she just is Betty and the fact that her acting is bad, somehow makes her all the more a believable as a loony. Jean-Hugues Anglade as Zorg, is fantastic as always (remember him in that very ‘dark’ very ‘cool’ french film Killing Zoe? One of those second-rate, indy movies shoehorned into your life because you enjoyed Pulp Fiction?) Anglade is a gifted comic but also endearing and unintentionally cool. His penis also has a large part in the film and almost deserves a separate credit for it’s hair-raising stunt work. ‘Zorg, put some undies on for God’s sake! That oven is on, you know?’ But what really makes the movie are the minor characters that Zorg and Betty bounce off. Director, Jean-Jacques Beineix, makes all them all so relateable and so lovable with, or even because, of their foibles. He treats these strange people with such compassion and tells their stories with such humour, that after the movie is done – and there is no a happy ending here – you have a sence still, of all these flawed, fragile but essentially kind people, just trying to get on with it but stumbling under all that wonderfully unnecessary, french, philosophical baggage. You have to own this movie, don’t rent or stream it, don’t borrow it either. Buy it and watch it whenever you’re feeling Blue.
Now available on Blu Ray; Betty Blue always looked great and having seen it so many times, seeing it now, it feels like I’m watching a Pixar movie, maybe too great and the deleted scenes that showed up in the Director’s Cut a few years ago are not here and it doesn’t really matter, Zorg robs a bank! Betty abducts a child! Two hours is plenty. Your heart couldn’t take much more.