When the easygoing would-be novelist Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) meets the tempestuous Betty (Béatrice Dalle in a magnetic breakout performance) in a sunbaked French beach town, it’s the beginning of a whirlwind love affair that sees the pair turn their backs on conventional society in favor of the hedonistic pursuit of freedom, adventure, and carnal pleasure. But as the increasingly erratic Betty’s grip on reality begins to falter, Zorg finds himself willing to do things he never expected to protect both her fragile sanity and their tenuous existence. Adapted from the hit novel 37°2 le matin by Philippe Djian, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s art-house smash—presented here in its extended director’s cut—is a sexy, crazy, careening joyride of a romance that burns with the passion and beyond-all-reason fervor of all-consuming love.
The Criterion Collection presents the 185-minute director’s cut of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue on Blu-ray, presenting it in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a high-def digital restoration performed by SND Groupe M6, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. The previous North American Blu-ray only presented the theatrical cut of the film.
There are plenty of signs this is an older master: grain is a bit clunky, black crush occurs and kills shadow detail, and fine object detail just isn’t what it probably should be (which in turn lends to the weak grain rendering). Yet, despite this, it’s still a pleasant image most of the time. It’s a very bright, very colourful looking film, and the colours are quite vibrant in the brighter scenes, and likewise in plenty of the film’s darker scenes. But yes, those blacks are iffy at times, leading to some muddier looking low-lit scenes, and weak shadow delineation.
Detail is good a majority of the time, again it just struggles in delivering the finer details, and there are a couple of moments where tighter patterns lead to minor shimmering. The digital presentation is also pretty good, despite some shimmering artifacts with a handful of tighter patterns. But the restoration has been thorough, and print damage is not an issue. Nothing glaring in the end, but it could still be quite a bit better.
The film’s monaural soundtrack is presented in 1.0 linear PCM. Like the image it’s fine, getting the job done, but doesn’t strive for too much. Range isn’t all that wide but the film’s music can still stretch things out and dialogue is clear and clean.
Criterion hasn’t created any new on-disc supplements for their release, simply digging up archival material and recycling features found on other editions for the film. Things start off with the same 64-minute documentary found on other releases for the film, Blue Notes and Bungalows, featuring interviews with Beineix, associate producer Claudie Ossard, cinematographer Jean-François Robin, composer Gabriel Yared, and actors Béatrice Dalle and Jean-Hugues Anglande. I’ll be honest here, my notes on this are skimpy, and it appears I only wrote down the steps in production the documentary covers; I apparently didn’t come across anything where I felt it was worth the wrist movement and calorie expenditure to jot down. I recall Dalle and Anglande talking about their casting and the characters, some discussion on the adaptation, the film’s look, and the music that would appear in the film, and that it covers the production in a staggering amount of detail from conception to release. But nothing really stood out. It’s ultimately fine and anyone curious about the film’s production will more than likely enjoy it, but it is similar to so many other made-for-DVD documentaries of its ilk: talking-heads with inserts of clips from the film and behind-the-scenes material.
To follow up on that Criterion does dig up an archival making-of for the film, made during the film’s production back in 1986. This one has some extensive behind-the-scenes footage, most of it around the filming of Dalle entering the beach house at the beginning, and the featurette also features author Philippe Djian talking about the character and the film adaptation, saying he based Betty on women he has known, so take from that what you will. It runs 13-minutes.
Criterion digs up some other archival material that is all rather good. An excerpt from a 1986 French program called Antenne 2 midi, featuring Beineix and Dalle, was aired around the time of the film’s release. The 8-minute segment features the director talking about adapting the book (cutting out what was “too literary”) and Dalle addressing her newfound fame and the issues that come around it (like the press targeting her). Also appearing here is journalist France Roche, an early defender of Beineix’s work and she offers her thoughts on this film during the discussion.
Also here is an 8-minute screen test featuring Dalle. Dalle is extremely charming and it’s easy to see why Beineix (or anyone really) would have been quick to cast her (though I should mention that Beineix was resistant initially because he did think the two leads were too young). But, holy crap, do you get some insight here as to what a young woman has to go through in the hopes of getting into acting or modeling. The casting agent has Dalle recall previous experiences she’s had in modeling and/or acting, and through her stories we learn how she participated in some real skeezy “jobs” offered to her by unbelievable slime balls, each one of these jobs sounding more dubious than the last. She was able to get out of some of them and even turned the tables in at least one instance, but many tried to exploit her. The awful thing is how she seems to just shrug each instance off as it’s just one of those things. One of the more fascinating screen tests I’ve seen.
Criterion then includes a 1977 short film by Beineix, called La chien de monsieur Michel. It’s an amusing 16-minute film that centers around the title character, Mr. Michel, who gets himself into a predicament where he needs to convince his neightbours he’s a dog owner after a local butcher gives him free scraps of meat for his imaginary pup (Michel ends up just cooking and eating the meat himself). This of course calls for him getting into absurd little situations to make it seem like there is an actual dog with him, and he’s always in danger of being found out. I did enjoy this one, finding it an amusing farce. The ending isn’t a huge surprise, though.
Criterion then includes 4 trailers for the film, which all appear to be around the 1991 theatrical French release of the director’s cut. The original trailers for the 1986 cut are nowhere to be found. Chelsea Phillips-Carr then offers an interpretation of the film and its characters in her essay found in the included insert.
The most obvious exclusion from the supplements is the theatrical cut, but I’m also disappointed by the lack of more academic material. Though it had its fair share of criticisms lobbed against it back in 1986, the film appears to be more divisive now and having material addressing this from multiple perspectives could have made for some interesting discussion on the film’s subject matter and treatment of its characters. Instead the release ends up having a rather “slapped together” feel.
A middling edition that delivers an okay but dated high-definition presentation, and supplements made up entirely of archival material and features made for previous editions.