Betty Blue: The Director's Cut (1986)
Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix
A master of style who manages to turn complex narratives and popcorn action sequences into spectacles of formal beauty, Jean-Jacques Beineix has always had a penchant for the epic. For instance, the first volume of his multi-pronged autobiography clocks in at 835 pages. Appropriately, this extended 3-hour cut of his 1986 Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee Betty Blue feels like a sprawling, riveting and eccentric novel (and is based on Philippe Djian's 1985 book 37°2 le matin). At its core, as with most of Beineix's films, this is a story about youthful energy overcoming the forces that would cage and contain it, while growing up a little in the process.
That dynamic hovers ominously over beautiful young things Betty (Béatrice Dalle) and Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) from the opening scenes in a surreal beach bungalow town run by a grumpy, gross and grey flannel suited middle-aged man. In contrast, the opening shot is a slow zoom in on an incredible sex scene between Betty and Zorg (full frontal nudity abounds throughout, incidentally) and thereafter they dress in a series of outfits that look lifted from an indie rock concert. Zorg is the beach community's superintendent, and when his boss assigns him and Betty the fairly Herculean task of repainting all the homes in stunning pinks and blues (Beineix packs every beautiful frame with color), she has the first of her massive mental breakdowns and the two flea to Paris. As they go she sets their beach house ablaze, closing Betty Blue's opening section with a stunning crane shot of yellows, pinks, blues and reds that looks like a live action Dali desert-scape.
Thereafter the couple stays with a friend of Betty's in a moody boarding house in suburban Paris, and later end up in a quintessentially quaint French village where Zorg has been asked to run a piano store. At each stop, Betty's manic-depressive outbursts (which include arson, vandalism, attempted suicide, a fork attack and an eye-gouging) fuel a sense of inescapable dread. As Zorg muses in one of his intermittent voice-overs, delivered in the hard-boiled banter of a classic film noir detective: "Betty was like a wild horse who'd injured herself leaping over a fence and knew nothing of stillness. She wasn't built for it." Dalle conveys that sense of doomed, detached beauty incredibly, flashing a toothy smile one minute and spinning into a frenzied wrecking ball the next.
That's not to say that Betty Blue is all social dysfunction, evading responsibility and pretty tragedy. Beineix has the exceptional ability to bring his entire narrative to a screeching halt for a Laurel and Hardy-esque slapstick gag involving engine oil, or a joke about a hooked garbage man who tears a discarded mattress to shreds because he lost his hand to a mattress spring (visions of Buster from Arrested Development immediately come to mind). He's also tirelessly fond of archetypal Frenchness, and where Beineix's most famous film Diva (1981) features a master class on spreading butter on a baguette, here a great deal of time is spent tasting olives and deciding which varieties go best with certain foods and wines. These scenes are handled with such endearing warmth and charm that you'll find yourself craving olives for the rest of the film. These and other tangents never detract from the film's narrative, but instead only add to the incredible depth and richness of this truly singular artifact. Like its title character, Betty Blue is beautiful and unpredictable, and Beineix rarely abuses our patience even though it's never clear if the next scene will be deliriously silly or brutally depressing.