Love’s torment starts out blue and beautiful, a wide open sky over Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade), an odd-jobber with a writer’s heart, and Betty (Beatrice Dalle) his highly-strung waitress girlfriend.
Zorg is low in confidence (he hasn’t written in ages) and he has a huge, pounding love for Betty, calling her ‘the flower with a psychic antennae and a tinsel heart.’ Whether a distraction or a muse, Betty is unpredictable: she likes sex, loves a temper tantrum, and she thinks Zorg’s a great writer. She believes in him, and of course, Zorg is hooked.
Close to thirty years after its first release, 37°2 le Matin is a celluloid representation of France that is very different to today’s preference for social realism or portraits of grey, confused love. With vibrant colours and high energy Jean-Jacques Beineix directs the episodic tale as a travelling circus of events, holding the trauma of romance, and the joys of desire as something more vital to life than work. It’s a poet’s view of a France that no longer exists, but one in which we all want to believe.
Zorg and Betty start their journey together in a shack on the beach. It’s all very appealing: It’s simple and it meets basic needs. There’s one room where they eat, sleep, make love and, of course, have violent disputes. Betty is a cyclone and Zorg loves it: it’s the crazy energy that keeps them alive. Who cares if Betty throws all the pans out of the window or flings the beer bottles across the room. Material things don’t matter, and neither does a bit of arson if Zorg’s boss becomes (in Betty’s view) unreasonable.
There’s always another odd-job to pay for life’s basics. So when Betty sends their shack up in flames the two head off to try love and luck in Paris. With the same winkety-wink humour that Beineix sprinkles over the rest of the film, Betty gets a job in an Italian restaurant called ‘Stromboli.’ Meanwhile, Zorg tries to write: we don’t know what he’s writing (it’s not important) but it makes Betty love him, and it is this that gives him his fire.
Zorg and Betty’s dizzy mutual infatuation soon becomes as melancholy as France’s fading romanticism. They could easily be riding an old fairground carousel, listening to composer Gabriel Yared’s evocative Maudits Manèges, a melody that sounds like it will never end, grinding itself, hypnotically, out of a small organ. And so the carousel goes round and round, stuck in a cycle of Betty’s increasing neediness and Zorg’s desperation to please her as she descends into psychosis.
Dalle’s boisterous and honest performance is matched equally by Anglade’s acrobatic emotions; his turn is a dance and every muscle shudders for Betty. Anglade’s dedication is moving. He is dashing and sensitive, holding each scene as the nouveau Prince. Yes, Anglade’s Zorg is the man every modern, moody and chaotic woman wants. No matter how irrational she is, he’ll be there, in adoration.
But only up to a point. In the last five minutes it is evident that Zorg’s love for Betty is more important than Betty herself. The carousel collapses. Zorg will do anything to keep his love for her alive: even if this means, in some kind of twisted desperation, he will no longer be able to touch her.
Jean-Jacques Beineix (1986)