I could say that my obsession with film began with the long, static shot of the gate at the beginning of Pauline A La Plage (Eric Rohmer, 1985). However, this would probably be a lie. Although I do remember that it was certainly the French cinema of the late 80s that turned what was at the time an interest into one of the dominant themes of my life. But as with any memory, it is hard to know where it all began.
Another stand-out film was Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf (Leos Carax, 1991), a sublime story of down and outs living on the oldest bridge in Paris. Yet, by this time, I had already become a convert to this new temple. The love affair had already taken place – Carax released this film far, far, too late. But I don’t really know where it all began.
I’ve ended up asking this question because of the sheer boredom of Saturday night television. The effect of which has sent me reeling back to my DVD collection in the hope of finding something a little more stimulating than the awful talent shows and genre hospital dramas, which should have been put out of their misery years ago.
Just looking at these shelves I came to the conclusion that the initiation could have happened anywhere: Subway (Luc Besson, 1985), Nikita (Luc Besson, 1990), Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodovar, 1988) Delicatessen (Jean-Pierre, 1991). All of these at some point have made their mark, and left me wanting more. The cinematic image became dominant in my life. Then, of course, there was Betty.
Betty Blue (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1986) or 37.2 Le Matin, may well be one of the great French films of the last 30 years. There’s little doubt that it made a world-wide impact upon its release, picking up a Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. Betty Blue is a passionate film about two people who are in love. Betty (Beatrice Dalle) is overwhelmingly attractive. Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade), her lover and narrator of the film, says ‘she was like a flower with translucent antennae and a mauve plastic heart’. However, beneath Betty’s beauty there lurks a beast.
I’m being a little unfair describing Betty as a beast. She is troubled by a bi-polar disorder that she seems not to want to control. Betty is a women with a rage within that is more dangerous to herself than she is to others. Her beauty covers the torment that seethes inside -she is a condemned women who is compelled to follow the voices in her head. There is nothing that can keep them quiet. Not even her relationship with Zorg can help her.
This film is a story told with pathos, sometimes humour. It follows Betty’s journey, and Zorg’s observations of her ups and downs, through her sometimes violent outbursts, with a sublime intensity. In this sense the film is almost beguiling. There is nothing that can be done for this woman, and there is one point towards the end of the film where her troubles are blamed on the drugs she was placed on in the first place. But one is left with the feeling that this may not be the full truth. Betty will always be on the run from her own demons.
So it was with Betty I spent the evening, watching her once again on her downward spiral that nothing can stop. I note that this film is now 25 years old – but does not look as if it has suffered much. Betty is as fresh now as it was when it was first released back in the mid-80s. As to the answer to the question of where my obsession with cinema began, then quite likely it began here with Betty Blue, and it is likely that I will always be obsessed with this dark bi-polar beauty.