The Betty Blue Poster and Me, A Teenage Love Story
The face that decorated a thousand walls...
'Betty Blue, what a cool name'. That was my initial reaction when I first saw the Betty Blue poster on the bedroom wall of a school friend back in the lazy, hazy days of 1987. Looking closer, I saw that it was written in French (ooo, classy!) and featured a rather attractive young lady. To these 17 year old eyes, that was a pretty good combination. Rather ironically, my friend didn't know anything about the film, just liked the poster. I did some digging, (not so easy back then with no internet, kids!) and discovered that Betty Blue was actually a 1986 French film, both critically acclaimed and denounced as pretentious x-rated nonsense. Again, for 17 year old me, a good combination.
I eventually tracked down the film and, if I am being honest, the healthy amount of nudity was the initial fascination! (hey, I was 17). That developed though over the next few years into a genuine affection for the film, and the poster, which I had rushed out and bought. The poster was a mainstay in the many bedrooms I had between 1987 and about 1995, saw me through university and several jobs, and several girlfriends.
I can't credit myself with being a trailblazer, though, as every British university student house in the late 1980s had one of these on their walls. It was an emblem of 80's youth culture....and I've never got over the 80's!
Before the poster came the film, and before the film came the book, so a quick history of Betty Blue is in order...rapide!
Note: Images are of posters and film publicity shots, and the copyright for them is most likely owned by the publisher, Alive Films.The use of scaled-down, low-resolution images of posters to provide critical commentary on the film in question or of the poster itself, (not solely for illustration) qualifies as 'fair use'.
Quoi de Ce Fait-il?... - ..or, What's It Actually About?
Betty Blue is the story of the relationship between Zorg and Betty, from the highs of its beginning to the lows of its ending. The story starts with Zorg, a wannabee novelist marking time as a handyman painting bungalows, while starting a relationship with Betty, a girl he has recently met. Betty is both a free spirit and a controlling influence as we see early on, when she burns down Zorg's bungalow to force him out of his cosy, lazy (as she sees it) existence.
The two stay with Betty's best friend, where Zorg works in odd jobs, egged on by Betty to finish his writing, which she thinks will take him to great things; he hides the many rejections he has received, not wanting her to think less of him. Things go ok, and their relationship is as passionate as ever, but the flashes of anger and irrational behaviour from Betty hint at problems under the surface, confirmed when Zorg finds medication she has been taking which he was unaware of.
Betty is overjoyed to find out she is pregnant, and the two begin to prepare for a baby, closer than ever. This is shattered though when Zorg returns home to find a letter with a negative pregnancy result, and clearly disturbed and upset Betty. For several days he tries to reassure her, but she descends deeper and deeper into a violent depression, shutting out the world, which culminates in Betty self-harming.
Betty is taken to a mental hospital, where she remains unresponsive. Zorg learns that his book has found a publisher, and tells the comatose Betty. Realising 'his' Betty is gone, and can't be returned, Zorg smothers her. He promises to tell their story in his next book.
Oh, and why was the original book called '37Â°2 le matin', (37.2Â°C in the Morning) ? it is the normal morning temperature of a pregnant woman.(99 degrees Fahrenheit)
It is a story with a sad ending, but along the way there is plenty of humour and drama to enjoy. It is a sort of love story/ road movie at heart.
Image Credit: Amazon.com
"There comes a moment when the silence between two people can have the purity of a diamond." Philippe Djian, Betty Blue
Lire Tout Ca.... - ..or, read all about it.
Betty Blue began life as the french language novel ,'37Â°2 le matin', published in 1986 from writer Philippe Djian. The title translates into English as '37.2 Degrees in the Morning', which has a tragic connection to events in the film that I won't reveal yet. When the book was translated into English,it was renamed 'Betty Blue'.
I actually read the book after the film, as it was the film that developed my interest beyond the poster on the wall, and for any fan of the film I would recommend reading it. Although the main story beats of the film are all in there, the book is more vague in some areas than the film, and is fully narrated in the first person by the main male character. The book is very much HIS story, whereas the film is very much his AND Betty's story. In the book he is never named, but in the film he is called Zorg, The book tells of the volatile, yet deeply loving relationship between the narrator, a struggling writer, and Betty, passionate and beautiful, but self destructive.
The book has humour, romance, sadness, smiles and a genuine feel of young love; everything is felt so strongly, the highest highs and the lowest lows.
The book is 352 pages long, and although I love the story, the translation is a little flat in comparison to the film. It is functional, rather than emotional.
Worth reading, none the less.
Image credit: Amazon.com
It does you good to live according to your ideas, to not betray yourself, not cop out at the last minute just because some girl has a nice ass, or someone offers you a huge check, or because the path of least resistance runs by your front door. It does you good to hang tough. It's good for the soul."
Philippe Djian, Betty Blue
Puis Vint le Film.. - ..or Then Came the Film.
As I touched on earlier, Betty Blue the film was both popular and despised in equal measures; at the same time it was nominated for a whole raft of international film awards, it was denounced by some as being glorified pornography...which of course, made it even more required viewing to the teenage boy set. I'd like to pretend I always saw the film for its thoughtful insights into the nature of relationships, but that came a tad later...initially, it was more about Beatrice Dalle, Betty herself.
There is indeed a lot of nudity but, hey, its the French! and although a little is gratuitous, it is acceptable in the context of the 'burn too bright' nature of Betty. There's no denying though that Beineix likes to concentrate on Dalle's, ahem, best features.
The film was directed by (at the time one to watch) Jean-Jacques Beineix, and the film was initially released in 1986, and a Directors Cut with a whopping extra hour of footage was later released on video, then dvd. The Directors Cut, although weighing in at over 3 hours, is the better film as it captures the tone and intent of the book more, we see the character studies better, and see events unfold at a slower rate. Although I'll discuss the actual film a little more in a bit, the films main divergence for me, from the book, is the way Beinex uses the characters. Zorg is 80's 'new man' incarnate, sensitive, caring, affectionate, funny, understanding. Betty is the personification of the 'free spirit', wild, untameable, passionate, sexual. They are almost archetypes than characters.
Both leads ,Jean-Hugues Anglade (Zorg) and Beatrice Dalle (Betty Blue) are excellent, and the film made a star of Dalle, which is fair as her face was the one we all had looking down on us.
Image Credit: Amazon.com
My favourite version...
Betty Blue Trailer
if you prefer the original, here's the blu-ray...
'Sometimes I wondered if I did enough for her, and sometimes I was afraid I didn't - it's not always easy to be the man you ought to be. Being what you ought to be in life is not something that just happens to you - you have to work at it.' Philippe Djian, Betty Blue
We all had them. What was the poster on YOUR wall growing up?
Memories in Blue...
There are several variations on the Betty Blue Poster, all of which I quite like, but this was THE one that stared down on me for several years. I get nostalgic just looking at it!
Image credit: Amazon.com
A true 80's icon of the British student house....
No better way to re-live the part of a student in late 1980's England than by buying this, and hanging it on your wall. Don't forget to put on a The Cure cd too!
Qui est cette fille?.... - ..or, Who's that girl?
As good as the book and the movie are, there is obviously one main element that sold Betty Blue, and that was actress Beatrice Dalle. She was the one that certainly sold it to me, as it was her face moodily peering down from my school friends wall that sparked my interest in the film, then the book.
So who is she?
Actually, not that far removed from her character if her, ahem, interesting life is anything to go by!
Born in Brest, France in 1964 with the rather fab name of BÃ©atrice Cabarrou, she married Jean-FranÃ§ois Dalle, a painter, in 1985 (divorced in 1988, but seemingly kept the surname). She was actually working as a model in France when spotted by director Jean-Jacques Beineix, who cast her as Betty in his upcoming film, '37Â°2 le matin', her first ever acting job. It made her famous first in France, then internationally, and she had a prominent series of roles in French cinema throughout the 1990s.
Rather like Betty, she is something of a volatile character. She has been arrested several times (stealing jewelry, assaulting a traffic warden, drug possession), is notoriously outspoken, and even married a convicted rapist she met while filming a documentary on prisons.
I can see why Jean-Jacques Beineix cast her...
Image: Beatrice Dalle, Betty Blue publicity photo
Betty Blue Soundtrack - The soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous, I do recommend you give it a listen. All 38 minutes can be heard here
A gorgeous soundtrack album that really captures the film's feel.
'Betty rolled over in her sleep. I watched her. I didn't ask myself where I was headed, nor what I was doing with her - It never entered my mind. I'm not the kind of guy who asks himself questions about why he doesn't ask himself questions' Philippe Djian, Betty Blue
De Sorte Que Devient Le Coeur Brisã©? - Or, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
After several years of constant companionship, in the mid-90's the Betty Blue poster and me decided to go our separate ways. Partly as I was fast leaving my youth behind me, and partly because my girlfriend at the time (now my wife of 13 years!) decided a mirror would look better on the wall that a (by now) somewhat crumpled poster. I knew she was right, but I'd lie if I didn't feel I was putting my youth away in that cardboard tube.
The most final of separations came when we moved home in 1998, and the poster somehow got lost along the way. Although I hadn't looked at it in a while, I felt the loss...
Now I'm all grown up with my own office/ study, I have toyed with the idea of buying a new Betty Blue poster, and may still do so, but at the moment my love of comic books extends to artwork on the walls and it doesn't quite 'fit'. That may change.
For now, my love of Betty Blue continues by watching the film every couple of years, and reading the book every few years as well. She's still around...
...and a 17 year old me still loves her.
Photo: 17 year old me!