Betty Blue (1986): Jean-Jacques Beinex’s Oscar Nominated Amour Fou

Jean-Jacques Beinex’s amour fou “Betty Blue” tells an uninhibited, tumultuous story of an obsessive love that descends into cruelty and madness.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

Betty Blue
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When it premiered in 1986, the film gained notoriety for its full-frontal nudity and explicit sex. With audience members questioning if the sex scenes were simulated or not, the word-of-mouth buzz helped drive it to box-office success (in France and Europe, but not in the U.S.).

Based on a novel by Philippe Djian, it has become a cult classic for its mercurial characters, bohemian sexuality and descent into amour fou. Betty Blue: The Director’s Cut, which had never screened in U.S. theatres, features an additional hour of footage. (see below).

The story begins at the seashore, where handyman Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) and Betty (Béatrice Dalle) are involved in a passionate one-week affair.  A free-spirit whose sense of abandon threatens to tip over into the manic, Betty moves into Zorg’s rundown beach shack at a decaying seaside resort and promptly creates a bit of havoc with his employer.

Meanwhile, Zorg is content to spend his days painting beach shacks, drinking Tequila and making love to Betty until she becomes fed up with their inert situation.  Things change after throwing a tantrum and tossing Zorg’s possessions, when Betty discovers his manuscript and decides it must be published.

Betty burns down their place, and the two go into Paris to live with her friend Lisa (Consuelo De Haviland) and her lover. While Betty types up Zorg’s writings, the two live passionately in love and share fun with their friends, but Betty’s ups start to come down with increasing ferocity.

After an altercation, the two lovers decamp from Paris to the South of France and find themselves embroiled in spirited adventures, with Betty’s mental state held in check for a time. Things seem to be heading towards some calm normalcy, when Betty discovers she may be pregnant. When the test results arrive, it sends Betty into a destructive depression and Zorg to desperate measures.

This feature, a quintessentially French tale of amour fou, features a mesmerizing debut by Dalle, who was discovered on a magazine cover by Beineix. Anglade’s performance as a man who will go to the end of the earth for his love is heroic. The lavish cinematography by Jean-Francois Robin is enhanced by Gabriel Yared’s understated score, including a haunting piano melody.

Betty Blue: The Director’s Cut” features an additional hour of footage from the version shown previously in U.S. theaters. In this cut, the characters of Zorg and Betty are more fully realized, with the leads’ performances and the voluptuous, early days of their relationship fleshed out in greater detail. Betty’s crossover from obsessive passion to full-on emotional breakdown is more fully depicted, more screen time is devoted to the secondary characters who add a sense celebration and wild abandon with plenty of funny and sad moments along the way. 

The Director’s Cut runs 182 minutes, a whole hour longer than the U.S. theatrical release.

 

Beinex made a splashy feature debut in 1981 with “Diva,” which was an international hit. (see my review).

Oscar Alert

In 1986, Betty Blue was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

 

Spoiler Alert

The melodrama includes many dramatically intense scenes, and the climax, with Betty’s descent into madness while poking out her own eye, is truly tough to watch