His And Hers Desiring Bodies In Betty Blue

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In the opening scene of the film, the camera slowly tracks forwards towards Betty (Dalle) and Zorg (Anglade), both naked, having sex. The first sounds are Betty's high-pitched groans of pleasure. Her face is clearly lit as she grimaces, and then bites Zorg's shoulder at the moment of orgasm. (Both the groaning and the biting will be revisited with hyperbolic intent in Dalle's performance from Trouble Every Day) Despite the slight privileging of Dalle over Anglade in this sequence - she makes the most noise; her face is

9- 'a force of nature, a bombshell, a pure gift: Béatrice Dalle. She is the natural of her generation. Like Brigitte Bardot may have been in her day, she represents a certain compromise between sensuality and the times', Beineix cited in Moricini and d'Yvoire, op. cit., pp.94-5.

10- 'I've grown up. The cinema is my way forward', Première (Paris), 109 (April 1986), p.94.

11' 'I love things that are too much', ibid., p.96.

visible while his is hidden - the scene is essentially a shared instance of sexual pleasure, and as such sets the tone for the film, during which both Dalle and Anglade spend a lot of screen time naked and displaying their bodies to each other (and to the audience). One reviewer was prompted to write that 'pour la première fois au ánéma, nudité masculine et nudité féminine sont traitées également12 Beyond the film itself, although very strongly rooted in it, nudity has become a key part of both actors' star images. In this respect, Anglade and Dalle are comparable as sexualised stars associated with the display of the desiring body.

Betty's first appearance after this sex scene foregrounds the notion of display, as she swaggers up to Zorg's shack in a revealing dress and asks 'Alors, comment tu me trouves?'.13 Dalle is also introducing herself to the audience here, since this is her first film role. Her face is shot in a medium close-up as she beams, her wide mouth spread in a smile that shows her strong teeth. This shot establishes the iconic importance of Dalle's mouth, the focus for many of her film stills and publicity photos, and a symbol of her sexualised and potentially devouring star image. Première describes it as 'une bouche qui vous envoûte, gourmande et carnassière'.11 Their feature on Betty Blue includes an image of Dalle grinning as she suggestively bites the tip of a finger with her front teeth.15 This eroticising of Dalle's mouth is replicated in the film when Betty sucks on an ice lolly while watching Zorg at work, and in the numerous facial close-ups which show her mouth accentuated by red lipstick. There are also several shots of Dalle fully nude, as there are of Anglade, and the film is punctuated by frequent sex scenes. As a result, Betty Blue has been celebrated as 'one of the ten great bonking movies of all time' and condemned as 'a male fantasy of the "supreme fuck" '.16 But the frequent nudity that results in these overtly eroticised readings of the film was in fact challenged by Dalle during filming. As she told the press, she regularly protested to Beineix about the amount of nude scenes she was asked to do, and in some instances persuaded him to change his mind.17 Nonetheless, excess and display are central to Dalle's performance and to the publicity surrounding Betty Blue.

The key to Dalle's performance and its reception is the pathologising of female sexual desire and bodily display as something violent, excessive, and ultimately destructive. In contrast to the nurturing trope of motherhood - an ideal to which Betty aspires but which she fails to achieve - the desiring but unproductive woman is represented as dangerous and violent. Hence the scenes in which Betty attacks other people and increasingly herself, including the tearing of the baby clothes to shreds when she learns that she is not pregnant.

12- "for the first time in the history of cinema, male and female nudity are treated equally', D. Jamet, "Chaud les passions chaud', Quotidien de Paris, 9 April 1986, cited in Powrie, op. cit., p.138.

14* 'a mouth that bewitches you, greedy and carnivorous', C. d'Yvoire, 'Béatrice Dalle: "J'aime ce qui est trop"', Premiere (Paris), 109 (April 1986), p.96.

16* Empire, November 1992, cited in Fox Video souvenir booklet for Betty Blue, long version box-set, 1993, p.11; S. Hayward, French National Cinema, London and New York, Routledge, 1993, p.293.

She ends by punching her fist through a glass door and eventually by tearing out her own eye. And yet in interview, Dalle claimed that her own behaviour could be even more violent and hysterical than Betty's: '&j moments d'hystérie ou l'effet qu'etteprovoque sur les gens, c'est completement moi. [...]pour ce qui est de la violence, je suis encorepire.',& The transgression of norms is expressed not just in Betty/Dalle's behaviour, but also in her body. Beineix has suggested that her appearance has a kind of 'monstruosité gracieuse'.19 Throughout Betty Blue, this monstrosity is expressed via the repeated association between excess and the body. Bodily excess is a feature of what Linda Williams has called the 'body genres' of popular cinema: pornography, horror and melodrama.20 Betty Blue combines the codes of these three genres, and represents Betty's excess in terms of bodily fluids such as tears and blood, be it menstrual (the period that proves she is not pregnant, figured metaphorically by her bleeding, mascara-streaked face and by Zorg's reaction)21 or arterial (the blood-smeared walls of the bathroom where she rips out her eye). Dalle's performance is in essence corporeal, and not only embodies the desire and despair of her character, but also calls forth from the spectator a physical reaction (be it tears, sexual arousal, or screaming).22

Phil Powrie has compared Dalle's 'series of hysterical fits'23 in Betty Blue to a similar performance by Bette Davis, in which 'the signs of her excessive desire are inscribed on her body in a hyperbolic manner'.24 He also notes in reference to her performance that, according to Lapsely and Wesdake, 'The hysteric is a woman asking [...] what it is to be a woman for a man.'25 There is indeed, in Dalle's star image, and particularly in Betty Blue, an aggressive over-exaggeration of sexual display which we might interpret as a questioning of the importance attached to the sexualised female body. Powrie interprets the aggressive display of her pudenda in Betty Blue (complete with an invitation to have a good look) as demonstrating 'the female object's resistance to being made an object precisely by overemphasising her body as erotic attraction.'26 This tendency becomes an essential, if subde, component of Dalle's subsequent star image, finding its most explicit expression in the horror film Trouble Every Day, where the foregrounding of the sexualised body and of bodily fluids, and the association of 'excessive desire' with hysteria is reintroduced in an even more 'hyperbolic manner' that refers direcdy back to Dalle's role in Betty Blue.

18* 'Her hysterical outbursts and the effect she has on people, that's just like me. As for violence, I'm even worse', ibid., p.96.

19- 'graceful monstrosity', Moriconi and d'Yvoire, op. cit., pp.94-5.

20- See L. Williams, 'Film bodies: gender, genre and excess', Film Quarterly, 44: 4 (1991), pp.2-13.

21* In sympathy, he spreads red stew all over his face; this scene is later referenced by Trouble Every Day. The third code, porn, is audible rather than visible in Dalle's performance of sexual pleasure.

22* These are the spectator reactions that Williams identifies with the melodrama, the porn film and the horror film respectively. See ibid.

24* M. A. Doane, The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940s, cited in ibid., p.135.

25* R. Lapsely and M. Westlake, 'From Casablanca to Pretty Woman: the politics of romance', cited in ibid., p.140.

Hysteria or madness have long been used as means of pathologising and hence containing female desire, thanks to 'a cultural tradition that represents "woman" as madness, and that uses images of the female body [...] to stand for irrationality in general'.27 Among the best-known female personifications of madness is Ophelia, whose 'death by drowning has associations with the feminine and the irrational, since water is the organic symbol of woman's fluidity: blood, milk, tears'.28 Ophelia informs Dalle's performance as Betty (in the director's cut she jumps into the river and floats downstream in an echo of Millais's famous painting), and so does the figure of Lucy, the romanticised nineteenth-century madwoman who is both violent and yet 'an idealized, poetic form of pure femininity [...]: absolutely irrational, absolutely emotional, and, once the single act is accomplished, absolutely passive'.29 For Betty, the endpoint is the enforced passivity of sedation and ultimately her 'mercy killing' by Zorg. Thus, while 'the beautiful woman['s] disordered mind and body are exposed' it is 'male control' that triumphs.30 Of course, as we shall see, Anglade as Zorg does also expose his own desiring body, but his desire is always under control while Betty's seems always to be out of control, a distinction that applies equally to the star images of these two actors and to the cultural traditions in Western representations of sex.

If Dalle as Betty is represented in terms familiar from gender archetypes (the feminine as natural, emotional, passionate, sexualised, irrational, hysterical), so too is Anglade in the role of Zorg. Throughout the film, Anglade displays the fact that he is a man, mobilising 'the conventional signs of masculinity' such as muscles, hairiness and sweat.31 The first establishing shot of Zorg alone shows him driving a pick-up truck, dressed in a baseball cap and a vest, his muscled arms and chest visible, his body and face slicked with sweat (as they are in the sex scene that precedes this). He is unshaven and whooping along to the sound of the truck's bell. This image condenses several facets of masculinity as it is conventionally represented, centring on the importance of work (the truck, the outfit, the muscles, the sweat), and on the virility of the male body (muscles, hairiness). The template established here is followed for much of the film. Like Tom Cruise in Top Gun (also 1986), Zorg gleams with sweat in almost every shot. He is almost always dressed in jeans and a vest, thus signifying his association with physical work.32 He even wears a vest to go out for a Chinese meal, thus displaying his macho working man image in a social situation

27- E. Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980, London, Virago, 1987, p.4, italics in original.

30- Ibid., p.3. For a reading of Betty Blue in terms of male narrative control, see G. Austin, Contemporary French Cinema, Manchester, M UP, 1996, pp.62-4.

31» R. Dyer, Now you see it: Studies on lesbian and gay film, London, Routledge, 1990, p.92.

32* The vest is shorthand for machismo in performances by Gérard Depardieu (La Lune dans le caniveau) and Bruce Willis {The Fifth Element) among others. For an account of macho workwear in gay fashion, see R. Meyer, 'Warhol's Clones', The Yale Journal of Criticism, 7 (1994), pp.79-109.

where it is incongruous. When not dressed in 'hypermasculine' workwear,33 Zorg is often naked, with his muscled body on display. There are similarities here between his performance and that of Dalle as Betty. Where she asks Zorg (and the audience) 'How do I look?', so Zorg addresses both Betty and the spectator when showing off his muscles : he pauses while knocking down a wall to ask '7u trouves pas que je ressemble à Stallone dam Rocky IV, baby?'?* Desire, as well as display, informs Anglade's performance too. As he states, HI fallait qu 'on sente le désir dans le corps de Zorg?5 But where Betty's desiring body is increasingly 'disordered', Zorg's remains under control. He rejects sexual advances from Annie by citing his power of self-control over his desires: 1 J'utilise mesforces pour ne penser à rien'?6 His strength is thus reiterated, but in a context of control that associates him with masculine order as distinct from feminine disorder.

The male desiring body is, in some of Anglade's performances, represented via a kind of hysteria as abject, a site of despair or decay, as in L'Homme blessé and La Reine Margot (see below). But in Betty Blue Zorg's desire is normalised and controlled, channelled through the structured body. Moreover, Zorg exerts control over the narrative as the writer of the story. Humour is another means of control in the film. Where Betty's hysterical fits are rooted in a (supposedly feminine) tendency to take things too seriously and too emotionally (hence her violent assaults on the publisher and the client at the pizzeria), Zorg can laugh at himself and at the constructed ideal of masculinity to which he aspires. This is made clear in the Stallone reference, and also in a similar scene where he wresdes, unsuccessfully, with a sofa bed, a task he describes as lde la mécanique' and hence suited only for 'un mec',37 His comic failure to put up the bed transforms his nudity in this scene from a macho display to a moment of vulnerability, and the laughter he shares with Betty demonstrates that the hypermasculine ideal is not always appropriate.

One reason why hypermasculinity is referenced regularly throughout the film is to balance the elements of the narrative that run counter to accepted images of masculinity, for Zorg is in fact not a manual worker as he first appears, but a writer. His training as a plumber is invoked in one sequence, but he is on the whole a very domesticated figure, who stays at home to write and to prepare food (he cooks in the film much more than Betty does). The higher cultural associations of being a writer (and the voice-overs from Zorg's work that punctuate the film) are offset by a strand of macho language in Anglade's performance - in the homophobic jokes about 'pédés' (homosexuals), the use of 'baby' when addressing Betty, and the monosyllabic whooping in the establishing scene. But this macho tendency is balanced in turn by the scenes where Zorg dresses in drag, first to carry out a robbery (in the longer version only) and then to pass unnoticed into the hospital in

34* 'Don't I remind you of Stallone in Rocky IV, baby?'

35* 'You had to sense the desire in Zorg's body.' Cited in Salanches, op. cit., p.94.

36* 'I use my strength to think about nothing'.

37- 'mechanics' suited only for 'a bloke'.

order to kill Betty. In these sequences, the féminisation of Zorg hinted at in his association with the home becomes explicit and spectacular. The film concludes with Zorg no longer in drag but occupying the slightly ambiguous position of the romantic male: domesticated by his position in the home (sitting at the table writing, devoted to Betty's memory) but visibly masculine too (wearing vest and jeans again). This is the space of romantic masculinity that Anglade's image went on to occupy in his subsequent career.

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