There are four Betty Blues that I love – one is the novel 37°2 le matin by Philippe Djian; one is the film that was based on that novel, Betty Blue, directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix and starring Beatrice Dalle and Jean-Hughes Anglade; one is the Cesar Award-winning film poster; and the other is the Betty Blue film soundtrack by Gabriel Yared.
The novel, 37°2 le matin, originally written in French and translated into American English by Howard Buten, is a beautifully written book, full of enigmatic and haunting writing.
It tells the story of Betty and Zorg, lovers who live in a shack on the beach. He works as a handyman who does odd jobs to pay the bills. As the story begins, they have only been going out for a week and are in a very passionate stage of their relationship.
Zorg narrates the story of their relationship. In the film he provides the voice-over. He describes Betty as being “like a flower with translucent antennae and a violet Naugahyde core.” She longs for a better life and has had to quit her last job as a waitress because she was being sexually harassed by her boss.
Zorg’s boss asks him to paint the five hundred shacks that populate the beach — a fact that he keeps from Betty who thinks they only have to do one. She attacks the project with enthusiasm that quickly turns to anger once she learns the actual number. In response, Betty covers the boss’ car with pink paint.
During an argument, Betty accidentally discovers a series of notebooks that contain a novel Zorg wrote years ago. She reads it and falls in love with him even more. She then makes it her mission in life to type every hand-written page and get it published.
They move to Paris and Betty’s mental health declines, with her becoming more aggressive, violent, withdrawn and uncommunicative. Finally, she becomes self-destructive, with tragic consequences. Despite the bleakness of the plot, the tone of the book is very warm.
The film stays faithful to the novel and has become something of a French film classic. It should really be watched by everyone who wants to have an insight into human nature and the extremes of passion.
Although I’ve now seen Betty Blue at least twenty times, I first watched Betty Blue when I was in my twenties, which is probably the best time to watch it, because it has stayed with me and etched itself into my psyche from that initial viewing.
There are a number of reasons for this: the wonderful use of colour in the film, the locations, the acting, the sex, and so on, but another very good reason is the beautiful, haunting soundtrack by Gabriel Yared.
I’ve included a sample below to give an idea of just how moving the music is.
So, look at the poster, read the novel, watch the film and listen to the soundtrack. It’s unusual for one piece of work to extend into so many other areas so successfully, but Betty Blue has done just that. It is a truly wonderful experience reading it, watching it and listening to it.
Give it a try.
Betty Blue and 37°2 le matin
© R J Dent (2009)