music friday: fillmore west, october 2, 1969
happy birthday!

betty blue (jean-jacques beineix, 1986)

This is the fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 4 is called "Cinéma du Look (Who's Talking) Week":

From Wikipedia:

"Cinéma du look was a French film movement of the 1980s and 1990s, analysed, for the first time, by French critic Raphaël Bassan in La Revue du Cinéma issue n° 448, May 1989, in which he classified Luc Besson, Jean-Jacques Beineix and Leos Carax as directors of 'le look'.

These directors were said to favor style over substance, spectacle over narrative. It referred to films that had a slick, gorgeous visual style and a focus on young, alienated characters who were said to represent the marginalized youth of François Mitterrand's France. Themes that run through many of their films include doomed love affairs, young people more affiliated to peer groups than families, a cynical view of the police, and the use of scenes in the Paris Métro to symbolise an alternative, underground society. The mixture of 'high' culture, such as the opera music of Diva and Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, and pop culture, for example the references to Batman in Subway, was another key feature. French filmmakers were inspired by New Hollywood films (most notably Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart and Rumble Fish), late Fassbinder films (Lola), as well as television commercials, music videos, and fashion photography."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Cinéma du Look film.

I admit, I didn't know much about Cinéma du look, which is why I find these challenges so much fun ... I see films I might not have thought of on my own. I loved Beineix's Diva, and hoped Betty Blue would excite me as well.

Not everything was optimistic. Roger Ebert hated it, famously writing:

Have you ever had the experience of going to a movie and trying to make sense of the plot, and trying to figure out why anyone has wasted his life and money on the project, only to suddenly have a dazzling insight? That's what happened to me during "Betty Blue." Reviews have been written debating the movie's view of madness, of feminism, of the travail of the artist. They all miss the point. "Betty Blue" is a movie about Beatrice Dalle's boobs and behind, and everything else is just what happens in between the scenes where she displays them.

In fairness, using this criteria, the film is also about Jean-Hugues Anglade's body, front and behind, although he isn't naked quite as often as Dalle (David Harris wrote that Anglade's "uncircumcised cock could have received credit for a supporting role"). There is no use talking about Betty Blue without mentioning the sex. But there is more going on ... as Eddie Murphy said when Bill Cosby accused him of creating an entire act out of cuss words, "I can't have no 'curse' show, I mean I gotta throw in a few jokes in between the curses, I can't come out and go 'Hello! Filth flar'n filth, motherfucker, dick, pussy, snot, and shit. Good night!'" And if you have a movie that serves as an example of a film movement that "favors style over substance", and it runs for more than 3 hours, you can't just have a sex show. You gotta throw in a few other things, you gotta show the style.

And Betty Blue is overflowing with style. But no matter how stylish Beineix gets, there's no escaping the fact that Beatrice Dalle dominates the movie. We can't take our eyes off of her. You never know what Betty will do next, and that is partly a plot device (Betty would seem to be insane, which we realize gradually over the three hours), but is also because Dalle has a fascinating and unique screen presence. She's not quite beautiful, but you can see why Anglade as "Zorg" is obsessed with her. Dalle is smoking. Her effect on Zorg (and on the audience) is so overwhelming that he never seems to understand that she's disturbed.

The way Betty's mental problems are handled is the primary place where the film fails. For as much as Dalle commands our attention, and despite the film's name, in the end, this is a movie about Zorg. Betty helps Zorg discover himself, and when that is accomplished, she is no longer needed. She starts to turn her destructive behavior on herself, and since Betty is indeed pretty annoying at times, it's almost a relief (for Zorg, and for the audience) when she is finally dispatched. Zorg, and the movie, needed Bette's energy, needed Dalle's vitality. But she doesn't get the rewards.


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