Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) had only known Betty (Béatrice Dalle) for a week, but they had made love every night since their meeting. He lived on the beach in one of the houses there, working as a handyman and doing odd jobs around the area for his landlord, but Betty found out something about him that he had never told anyone: that he had always wanted to be a writer. He had written a book but kept it stashed away in a box by his bed, and she spent a whole night reading it after she uncovered his rough draft, becoming convinced that Zorg was a major talent. He had houses to paint, but Betty had big dreams for him...
37°2 le matin, or Betty Blue as it became known around the world outside of France, was one of those films of the eighties whose popularity was partly down to how cool the poster looked on your wall; it was a design classic, with the monochrome image of Dalle resting her chin on her hands and gazing soulfully up into the blue sky, indeed more people probably know the poster than have actually seen the film it advertises. But it hailed from the decade where the posters were just as memorable as their movies, and as a summing up of everything entrancing about Gallic chic as far as their cinema went, here was an example that many could get behind with its glossy imagery courtesy of director Jean-Jacques Beineix.
He had built his reputation on the international success of Diva, another work which was not embraced by everyone due to how shallow some believed it to be, but his follow-up, The Moon in the Gutter, had flopped badly so he needed to recover with a hit. Betty Blue was that hit, providing hip movie buffs with a work they could indulge in as it not only provided laughs and romance, it also led up to a tearjerking denouement. To add to that, the two leads spent quite a lot of their screen time with their clothes off, giving rise to one of those rumours that Dalle and Anglade really were "doing it" during the sex scenes; not true, but it was tribute to how convincingly they had portrayed their characters' affection.
This veered dangerously close to being a dewey-eyed, pulp romance for those who did not think they would ever fall for that kind of thing, yet all credit to Beineix and his actors, it did bring out a certain je ne sais quoi in what could have been so corny and hackneyed the sex could have been the sole focus. However, Zorg's feelings for Betty form the emotional core, and he loves her so much he is placed in a dilemma more than once during their affair, thanks to her gradually fragmenting sanity. We get a few hints that this woman is not quite coping with life, but initially these are restricted to mildly humorous bits as when she has a habit of throwing things out of the beach house windows when she loses her temper.
But that's simply her volatile nature, right? Well, it is, but there's more to it than that and as her love for Zorg deepens, she dreams of the kind of happy family life with him that ultimately is beyond her grasp. She wants to be the lover of a successful novelist, so types up his manuscript and sends it off to publishers, which only disheartens her when they send back some particularly harsh rejection letters (they don't hold back, do these French publishers). You can tell that for added poignancy, her faith in him will bear fruit when things get rough, but when Betty is living in the moment and not letting the hassles of her existence drag her down, she is a delight, with Dalle's toothy, offbeat beauty perfect for the free spirited personality she depicts. If the comedy gets too raucous, and the tragedy too contrived, there's a good deal of flair in its assembly that represents a fullblooded gripping of vitality and its possibilities in cinema; nothing if not intense, with the silliness that can come with that. Music by Gabriel Yared.