Le Matin Jeanjacques Beineix Aka Betty Blue

This cult film from the 1980s is about a failed writer, Zorg, and his relationship with Betty, something of a rebel, who encourages him to write. She tries to have a baby and fails, eventually gouging her eye out and becoming catatonic, at which point Zorg kills her. The sequence is taken from early on in the film when Betty has moved into Zorg's beach house. Zorg, who works as an odd job man, has been asked by the owner of the beach houses to paint them all so as to earn his and

Betty's keep. Betty thinks painting is great fun, but revolts when she understands what the owner has asked Zorg to do.

Jean-Jacques Beineix came to prominence with his first film, Diva (1981), which has been called the first French postmodern film. Beineix's film style was much criticised, along with Besson's, during the 1980s, for its apparent superficiality and its tendency to prefer style over message.

Description of shot Camera Dialogue

1 Zorg carries paint DB Zorg (voice-over): 500 bungalows, 500

façades, 1500 sides, thousands of shutters.

Just a few odds and ends.

Georges: Is it true that the two of you are going to paint all those houses by yourselves? You should paint the people too.

Zorg: Listen, Georges, that's not what I'm going to do, but you just shut it, OK. Georges: Shit, are you mad at me? Zorg: How did you guess? I don't want you to speak about this in front of Betty, OK? _Go on, go play your sax on the beach._

2 Zorg walks to house DF Betty: Hey, you could be a bit nicer. I was just explaining to these really nice people how we're going to paint their house.

3 Betty walks to Zorg DF Betty: What about me, what do I do?

Zorg: You paint the shutters, and I'll paint around them. Here you are.

Betty: Why are you sulking?

Zorg: I'm not sulking at all.

Betty: The first one to finish helps the other one?

4

Climb ladders

5

Betty

Betty: Ready.

6

Old couple

Low angle

Woman: My God, I hope she doesn't fall. Man: Of course she won't, she's young.

7

Betty

Low angle

(Sax starts; to shot 21, except shot 14)

8

Betty and Zorg

Extreme low angle

9 Zorg Extreme low angle

10 Georges

11 Betty and Zorg

12 Old couple

Extreme Betty: Ready, low angle Zorg: Bravo.

Betty: I'll have a go at the wall.

Low angle

13 Georges

14 Betty and Zorg on ground

DF Zorg: Shit, what a job. (Sax stops) Shit, shit, shit. Ah, that's no good. Betty: What's the problem? Zorg: No, it's my fault, I should have told you. Look, here, on the angle, you've gone over.

Betty: Well, just look at the size of the brushes.

Zorg: I know, but the other wall looks as though it's been started, you see.

Betty: But why do we give a shit?

Zorg: Why do we give a shit?

Betty: But you're not going to paint only one part of their house are you? What's the point?

Zorg: Hey, you're really nice, so you're going to paint their place so it looks like new.

Betty: But of course I am.

Zorg: But of course. You're a champion painter.

Betty: But what did you think?

Zorg: Good, well, go on then, I'll hold the bucket.

15

Georges

(Sax starts again)

16

Merry-go-round (from inside Zorg's house)

17

Horizon (from inside Zorg's house)

Description of shot

Camera

Dialogue

18

Sun setting

19

Georges

20

Beach houses (merry-

go-round in foreground)

21

Sun setting

(Sax stops)

22

Zorg's house and

merry-go-round

against sky

23

Zorg

Betty: You ready?

24

Betty sets camera

Betty: Now.

25

Betty joins Zorg

DB

Betty: Smile. Hold the roller higher.

26

Camera

DF

27

Betty and Zorg

DB

28

Camera clicks

DF

29

They look at photos

Betty: So? But it's a really good one.

Zorg: No it isn't, I'm frowning, look.

Betty: But why are you frowning?

Zorg: I'm not frowning, I'm smiling on both

of them.

Betty: The other one's better isn't it? Let's

do another one, just one last one.

Zorg: No, come on, stop. You've already

done 50, Betty.

30

Owner arrives

31

Betty and Zorg

Zorg: Come along, I'll buy you a beer.

Owner: Well well.

Betty: What does that fat pig want?

32

Owner

DL DF/PR

Owner: Looks like you've been hard at it, ho

DR

ho.

Betty: Of course we have, what do you

think?

Owner: You're great. Well, we'll see if you

can keep it up.

Betty: He just said something I didn't understand.

Zorg: What? What did he say? He didn't say anything.

Betty: What do you mean, keep it up?

Owner: Wei I, don't you worry, my darling, I'm not asking you to do all this without taking a break, I'm not a monster, ho ho. Just carry on doing that, fanning yourself, it suits you.

Betty: But what do you mean, finish all this?

Owner: But the other bungalows of course. Betty: He's joking? Owner: But do I look like I'm joking? Betty: I'll tell you in 5 seconds. Zorg: Betty (she pours paint over the car). Owner: Hey, hey, you're mad. Betty: I don't mind painting your old banger too much. So don't you go listening to your pals if they say they don't like it. But as for the houses there, I don't feel like it.

Owner: Hey, is she mad or what?

33 Zorg wipes car Zorg: Look, a quick wipe, and it's as good _as new._

34 Zorg wipes windscreen DF Zorg: There you are. You'll have to forgive her, she's on her period. And then there's the sodding wind, it makes you mad. I'm sure she's sorry. There you are. I'll paint the dustbins and pylons as well if you like. Owner: I couldn't give a shit about the _pylons, arsehole._

SEGMENTATION USING METZ'S GRANDE SYNTAGMATIQUE

• 1-6 look like a scene, because the event is continuous. There are two slight ellipses, however, at 3/4 (position on the ladders), and 7/8 (Betty has painted more of the shutter in 8 than 7). This sequence is therefore, strictly speaking, an ordinary sequence.

• 7-15: 7 inaugurates a new syntagma, as is suggested by the combination of 'representative' shots of the two protagonists with the use of low angles and the introduction of the saxophone on the soundtrack. The alternation of the two protagonists/old couple in one location and Georges in another location suggests an alternating syntagma, i.e. simultaneity of two parallel actions. The problem lies in deciding where this syntagma ends. The alternation principle covers shots 7-15, but 15 might well be interpreted as the first shot of a new syntagma.

15-22 are a sequence of discontinuous shots whose meaning lies in their juxtaposition, in this case, 'the end of the day'. This would suggest an episodic sequence. It might be possible to call this a descriptive syntagma in that the music suggests chronological continuity; on the other hand, the visual images are not chronologically continuous.

14: if shot 15 is seen mainly as the first shot of a new syntagma, then the long shot 14 might well be seen as an autonomous shot. 23-34 look like a scene, but the slight ellipsis that occurs at 28/29 makes this sequence, strictly speaking, an ordinary sequence. An alternative reading could be to separate 23-29 as an ordinary sequence, and to propose 30-34 as a scene. The problem with this analysis is that 22-34 clearly suggest continuity. The alternative readings are as presented in the table below:

Alternative 1

1-6 ordinary/scene 7-15 alternating

15-22 episodic/descriptive 23-34 ordinary/scene

Alternative 2

1-6 ordinary/scene

7-13 alternating

14 autonomous

15-22 episodic/descriptive

22-29 ordinary/scene 30-34 scene

ANALYSIS

There are two main issues of interest in this sequence. The first is the way in which the sequence constructs a relatively simplistic rebellious character for Betty. The second is the use of colour and camera, characteristic of the cinema du look, and much criticised because it was felt to be technique for the sake of technique rather than technique in support of the narrative.

Betty

This sequence recounts the second event in the narrative to signal Betty's refusal to be exploited, after the first one which was quitting her job to go and live with Zorg. The sequence, which focuses principally on her splashing pink paint all over the owner's car (shot 33), suggests both her rebellion and also that her rebellion will eventually be contained. Narratively, it is Betty's refusal that seems the stronger element. She has violently rejected the owner's demeaning task by throwing its means of implementation, the paint, all over his car, by rejecting the task verbally, and by walking away with an obscene gesture of defiance. The mise-en-scène emphasises her refusal by having her centre frame, dressed in contrasting black, signalling rejection. Moreover, she is placed against the vivid green of a distant garage door, the only other major area of colour in the frame. The spectator's eye is therefore drawn to her all the more. She seems the strongest character, particularly in relation to Zorg, who feebly tries to make amends for her behaviour.

However, the mise-en-scène also suggests containment, on the following three counts.

• Frames: Betty is contained by a multiplicity of pink frames and a solid area of pink (the car) in what seems an excessive use of the motif of framing.

• Betty's size: Although she is centre-frame, she is a small figure in relation to the disembodied Zorg, whose conciliatory action dominates the foreground.

• Use of the car: The car is a symbol of power and mobility (Zorg and Betty do not have a car, and will hitch a lift from the beach later in the narrative). The black of the Citroën echoes the black worn by Betty, and it is significant in this respect that the car is covered by the same pink that surrounds her everywhere. Her action could have been an expression of power, but by throwing pink paint over the black car, Betty, the mise-en-scène is suggesting, is being recuperated; her gesture is a gesture of futile impotence.

Although narratively she may dominate the action, the film constantly works to reduce her dominance, in this case by emphasising male solidarity and its attributes.

Colour and camera

During the 1980s, many critics commented unfavourably on Beineix's use of images, suggesting that they pandered to the immediate gratification of the spectator, both by virtue of their resemblance to advertising images (isolation of the object by, for example, the use of odd camera angles, and by the systematic use of clear light), and by their excessive and excessively calculated nature. The then editor of the Cahiers du cinéma, Serge Toubiana, commented in his review of the film, for example, that 'the old man with the sax is beautiful once, but three times and it's no more than a picture postcard image' (Toubiana, 1986: 80). The same point concerning excess could be made in relation to the merry-go-round with which the saxophonist is associated, since the sequence of shots illustrating the setting of the sun (15-21) seems articulated around the focal point of the merry-go-round, which appears in shots 16 and 20, shot from different angles. The repeated images are redundant to the plot; they serve rather to evoke a particular type of atmosphere, one of nostalgia (end of day, out of season). This is emphasised by the visually striking image of Georges playing his saxophone as he leans on the miniature car of the merry-go-round, conjuring up an image of lost childhood. Aesthetic redundance, repetitive excess, strongly contrasted images, and nostalgic atmosphere are all hallmarks of the advertising clip and music clip style.

The use of odd camera angles (different levels of low angles) in the painting sequence are another instance of excess, since they distort the narrative action of painting. It is significant that the saxophonist occurs in the same sequence. Indeed, the saxophone music starts at the same time as the more excessive low angles, turning the action into an example of a typical, indeed stereotypical, action of painting, as is emphasised by the ellipses, accompanying soundtrack and use of colour. The extreme nature of the low angles could also be said to distort the actors, who are diminished by the objects of their action - the bungalows and the paint.

In Ostria's opinion, the painting sequence lacks verisimilitude (see Ostria, 1986: 60). The beach houses are not dilapidated enough to justify the need to have them repainted. Moreover, the result seems, as he puts it, to come straight out of a painter's manual; indeed, the paint used is Valentine, a pointed reference to television adverts made for Valentine paints by Beineix. The sequence fails, he contends, because the gesture of revolt (Betty throwing paint on the owner's car) is too obviously 'aesthetic'; it draws too much attention to itself, its aestheticism neutralising the force of the gesture. But it is also too obvious a gesture anyway, a simplistic expression of youth's revolt against the older, more materialistic generation. It could also be said that the juxtaposition of pastel paint colours (blue and pink), and the vivid primary colours of the oil drum and the merry-go-round, is yet another gesture towards simplistic but essentially redundant aesthetic contrasts.

Ostria's comments do not address the dynamics of the use of colour, however. Zorg tends to be associated with his environment in ways in which Betty does not, and this is articulated by the use of colour. Zorg is dressed in the same yellow-coloured vest as the sand of the beach and the beach houses prior to their being painted, and his skin colour matches the pink he is applying to them. Betty applies blue paint, on the other hand, suggesting a type of role reversal, blue usually being applied to boys and pink to girls. The role reversal is emphasised by other colour elements, such as her black dungarees, which establish a contrast with her environment. It is significant in this respect that Betty throws pink paint over the black car, helping to suggest the way in which she rebels against authority in a very active and graphic way.

Similarly, the red and green of the merry-go-round is echoed by the red and green of the oil drum on which Betty places the camera. The significance of the colours here is that both Georges and Zorg, seen together at the beginning of the sequence, are immobile when placed against these colours. Betty, on the other hand, is seen running away from the oil drum after setting the camera, and articulating a gesture of defiance in shot 33 as she is framed against the vivid green of the garage doors of a distant bungalow. Betty is therefore presented as the more proactive character by the use of colour, suggesting that Beineix's use of colour is not as redundant as might have been thought by prominent critics at the time.

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