When I first saw Betty Blue, or as it was originally known, 37.2 le matin in French, I was so moved by Beatrice Dalle’s performance. It seemed to me that either she was one incredibly good actress to pull of such an incredibly diverse and complicated role, or that perhaps a part of her went into the performance. Whatever the case, I spent many months afterward thinking about the film and having to endure friends in college tell me how much I reminded them of Betty, which wasn’t an entirely good thing, but then, wasn’t an entirely bad thing.
I mean, let’s face it, she was incredibly beautiful, I reasoned, incredibly sexy and here’s my boyfriend saying I remind him of her, but at the same time, I knew that she was incredibly nuts. Maybe nuts isn’t a fair word, though throughout the film she is told “vous etes fou”. How else would one respond, after all, to the many things that Betty does that are just not done.
The film starts with one of the most shocking and yes, realistic fucking scenes of all time. Brief credits, no warning, the film opens with Betty and Zorg fucking and fucking hard. This, to this point, is the extent of their relationship, based pretty much on good sex until later when she will turn up on Zorg’s doorstep, having quit her job as a waitress because all men are bastard pigs, she says (something happened here, though we never know quite what…). In any event, Betty clearly has issues, but Zorg seems okay with this, even somewhat amused or bemused. He’s so enchanted and taken with her, and Christ, who wouldn’t be. When she arrives on his doorstep, she may be nutty, but she wears a tiny black dress with a bib beneath which her breasts hand loose and sweet like plum tomatoes, the back of the dress flaps open showing off her white, lace knickers, and that smile and expression she has would make anyone’s heart melt – man or woman.
I won’t recount the whole film here, because that’s boring. Suffice to say that in short time, Betty turns Zorg’s small beach shack into what, at best, would be called “Zen” (after she throws everything out of the window because she’s annoyed and feels cramped and closed in), and later, she sets the whole place on fire. It’s the burning down of the shack that really begins the adventure. With nowhere to live, Betty and Zorg are really forced to travel on a journey that will eventually result in disaster and pain and crisis.
First, they go to a friend’s house in Paris or nearby Paris, where Betty determines that Zorg is a great writer one who must be recognized and she types his journals – a sweet gesture, since she can only finger type and insists nonetheless. When it is rejected, she physically attacks at least one publisher, slashing his face with a sharp, metal comb.
Betty seems at war with the world. A rejection, an attitude, the wrong look, or a salacious look perhaps, anything is enough to set off this incredibly rage that is so clearly mixed with sorrow. In due course, she attacks at least one publisher, a patron in a restaurant who is rude about Betty’s service, several other people over time, but mostly, and most awfully, Betty hurts herself.
I keep trying to pinpoint what it is that has her so upset and I can’t. No matter how many times I see this film, I’m not sure, and perhaps that’s the point. Maybe the point after all is that Betty has suffered some trauma, or some perceived trauma. That the world has let her down in so many ways, that much is palpable, and that men especially have hurt her –though how exactly remains vague (though I’ll add that there does seem to be some hint of something sexual, an assault perhaps or rape or childhood trauma, though this remains unspoken at least directly).
What we really see is a person who is mentally ill – the way John Nash or Plath or Van Gogh or any other s have suffered from illness that affects the mind. It may be a form of epilepsy that is neurologically based but affects the brain with it’s irritating bursts of electricity that cause random thoughts of slight, of hurt, of rage, of deeply felt sorrow. The same for manic depression or schizophrenia. Our Betty seems to fall into the later two – either manic depression or schizophrenia, with her rapid and intense ups and downs – moments of such intense joy and happiness.
When Betty laughs, when she claps her hands with joy, you just wish it would last forever. Never before have I seen a person so intense, so fucking gorgeous and sensual and almost childlike in her ability to feel so absolutely. It’s heartbreaking when she slips down into the sorrows and the laugh is but an echo and the love making and kissing with Zorg and even, by god, scenes of oral sex that are real and not some crap porn imitation of what sex is “supposed to be.” Finally, a film that shows us in all ways and all things, what they are, not how we wish, and by god that’s refreshing.
If nothing else, for as much sorrow this film holds, we finally have a film about love in all of its pain and joy and one that remains absolutely unforgettable. See it, and never forget that love warps the mind a little, but always, always, it’s worth it.