In 1986 when Béatrice Dalle starred in 37.2°C Le Matin or Betty Blue as it was called in English, a whole generation of arty young men fell in love. The film directed by Jean-Jaques Benieix starred Dalle and Jean-Huges Anglade in a tumultuous and passionate love affair that develops into Dalle’s character Betty descending into madness. And there’s nothing worse than reading a review of a film that you think you might like only to have the plot detailed, the story explained and the denouement exposed. So let’s just say if you haven’t seen this film it needs to go on your list of movies to see before you die. A director’s cut of the film released in 2005, added an hour of unseen footage.
French-Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared created a memorable soundtrack blending real instruments with synthesizers – saxophones, voices, piano, accordion and violins. It sounds something like a French-Lebanese Mike Oldfield impersonating Roger Eno, dressing up as Mireille Mathieu and strolling ’round Pigalle looking for hummus. The maturity of his future work may not be included in this description.
Sometimes playful, joyous, other times melancholic, dark, tragic and then tribal, Spanish, strictly classical or loose. Moody, smoky, easy listening or inspired by electric guitar over stiff drum machines, barrel organ and even jive – it’s constantly contradicting its raison d’être, reflecting the mood changes of Betty, the films main character. It stands up as a collection of varied instrumental pieces and I always found reason to listen to this soundtrack on autumn afternoons in Europe as the leaves began to curl and brown, falling to the ground on a twisted stork, brittle and ready to turn to dust.
In France after 37.2°C Le Matin, Yared composed the music for Camille Claudel (1989). He went on to win an Academy Award for The English Patient (1996) and worked on many films with director Anthony Minghella. He also composed the music for The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) and Cold Mountain (2003). He famously had his score for Troy rejected 4 weeks before the film was due to be released. It happened again with The Tourist (2010). Distinctive style comes with unique visions and Yared isn’t afraid to experiment or stay with the norm. He feels what the film demands through his eyes, ears and emotions and follows that vision to the end – even those with massive success have their disappointments. Yared’s latest composition is for the film Chocolat (2016).
Jean-Jacques Benieix made three films prior to Betty Blue, two of which I have seen, The Moon In The Gutter (1983) with Gérard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski and Diva (1981) with Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez and Frédéric Andréi. After Roselyne Et Les Lions (1989) with Isabelle Pasco and Philippe Clévenot, Beinieix seems to have concentrated more on documentaries, directing films, one presumes when he gets a great idea.
Jean-Huges Anglade is a well known French actor that English speaking readers may know from Killing Zoe (1994) and Nikita (1990).
Béatrice Dalle is something of a controversial figure and Jean-Jaques Benieix’ casting of her in Betty Blue seems to have been fatalistic. In the real world, Dalle has been prosecuted for assault, shop-lifting and the inevitable drug offences. But most controversially she married Guenaël Meziani who was serving a 12 years sentence for assaulting and raping his girlfriend. Dalle had been working on a documentary about prison life in a French jail in the town of Brest on the coast of Brittany (the same region where she was born). She apparently made 24 one hour visits before tying the knot. Concentrating mainly on French cinema and TV we hear little about her, but in France she remains a force – controversial, demonstrative, explosive and as sexually charged as the character in the film that made her famous.
Note: 37.2°C Le Matin is allegedly the normal morning temperature of a pregnant woman.