The full director’s cut of Betty Blue (37°2 Le Matin) has to date only been available France without English subtitles, so it’s very pleasing to see Australian company Madman releasing a reasonably good region 0 encoded disk of the version intégrale of the film.
Handyman Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) has his life turned around when he meets wild and impulsive Betty (Béatrice Dalle). She finds a manuscript for a novel he has written and is convinced he is too talented to be wasting his life painting holiday shacks for a sleazy and manipulative boss. She torches the shack they live in and they drive off to live a life on their own terms waiting for Zorg’s writing talent to be recognised. Betty, however, seems to become more and more prone to bouts of deep depression as things don’t go as planned, manifesting itself in increasingly violent outbursts.
Jean Jacques Beineix’s earlier success Diva, with its unusual mix of larger than life characters and an unconventional plot (the lead character makes bootleg recordings of a famous unrecorded opera singer and becomes mixed up with a couple of gangsters) became a cult classic. Betty Blue had even more unusual characters and a plot with even more sex and violence, and unsurprisingly was very successful indeed. It received an Academy Award nomination in 1987 and has been one of the most successful and well-known of French language films enjoying a cult status in countries not normally receptive to subtitled foreign-language films. It is not hard to see why. A well-paced plot full of action, drama, humour and romance, two young beautiful lead actors who rarely have their clothes on and a supporting cast full of memorable characters and performances.
Béatrice Dalle is incandescent as Betty and looks absolutely stunning as she walks around naked or scantily clad for most of the film with a carefree insouciance. Her sudden violent outbursts are alternately amusing and shocking, but utterly convincing. Jean-Hugues Anglade is superb, struggling to control the whirlwind that is Betty, who has enlivened and enriched his life but also threatens to destroy it. The supporting cast are without exception wonderful and hilarious. Even the smallest of roles are brilliantly delineated and characterised. The publisher who has rubbished Zorg’s manuscript, the sympathetic cop who is also a struggling writer of detective novels, the over-zealous cop with a love of fatherhood, Eddy Stromboli (Gérard Darmon) the pizza parlour owner, the guard who eagerly ties himself up when Zorg, dressed in drag attempts to rob the security company, and there is a lovely cameo from Dominique Pinon (Diva, Delicatessen, City Of Lost Children) as a surf loving drug dealer. The list goes on and on...
Watching it again on DVD, Betty Blue looks wonderful. The film is very well-paced despite its length. It also seems to have aged better than Diva, which I thought looked a little dated when I watched it again earlier this year. Only some of the clothes in the scenes in Paris give any indication of the mid-eighties when this was filmed. The film is 16:9 anamorphically enhanced and appears to be presented in the correct ratio of 1.66:1. Generally, the picture looks terrific with colours balanced and unsaturated, and sunsets glow a beautiful golden colour which predominates the summer settings of the film. The print is not perfect, however – dust spots and marks are frequently visible, but never to an extent where they become irritating or intrusive and the picture on the whole remains free from grain.
The soundtrack is straightforward Dolby Digital 2.0 and it performs very well. Subtitles are clear and removable and I only noticed a few curiosities in the translation. Occasionally lines are not translated, and although I understand that it is not desirable to subtitle every line of dialogue otherwise you end up reading the film instead of watching it, there were some odd omissions from the French script.
Unlike the French special edition which contained a commentary and a making of feature, there are not a great deal of extras on the Australian edition. The trailer is presented non-anamorphically without subtitles, there are profiles of Beineix, Dalle and Anglade and a short 6 page text interview with Beineix speaking about the film. Trailers are included for other Madman releases. The menus are very nice, showing variations on the poster design with moving images of the main characters and playing the moody saxophone theme from the film.
It’s not a perfect release. Extras are few and a re-mastering of the picture and sound would be nice, but you get the full three hour running time of the version intégrale and it is available for not much more than a tenner from several Australian dealers, so overall it’s quite a satisfying package.