Philippe Djian is the author of 37.2 Le Matin, 37.2 Degrees in the Morning, the book upon which the film Betty Blue was based. 37.2 degrees in the morning is the body temperature of a pregnant woman, in case you were wondering.
I only discovered this book after seeing, and loving, the film back in my student days and seeking out the source material. After a few reads I ended up loving the book just as much as I had the film. It’s a strange and beautiful first person narrative, incomparable to anything else I’ve read, and a truly brilliant work. But whether Djian is a consistently brilliant author I can’t tell you, as it is the only one of his 14+ books to have ever been translated into English. Which is criminal.
What Djian says about the film adaptation of his most famous book is very interesting:
“It’s very disagreeable, that my work is only known in English by the movie, because the aesthetics of Jean Jacques Beineix’s film is completely different, maybe the opposite. It’s difficult because in the movie you have two characters – in the book I was not sure that I was speaking of two characters. Somewhere in my mind there was only one character who was part male and part female – it wasn’t so brutal. If you are a film maker, you have to be very light, you have to be delicate. If there is a scene of love in the movie you are not obliged to use music. In this movie and in most movies it’s like they’re made for children. For example, in Betty Blue I said at the beginning of the book the man has a yellow car and that’s all I said. But in the movie from beginning to end you have the yellow car and the yellow car and the yellow car and you have the sunset, and you have the music – so it’s too much, it’s like pastries – they can be too rich! Each kind of pastry can be good on its own : cream, chocolate, and so on… but if you put them all together, it’s horrible!”
In recent years it’s become less rare for a good book to make the translation into a great film, I can think of Fight Club, Enduring Love and High Fidelity as good recent examples. But once it was, and it’s much more difficult to think of examples more than 20 years old.
The differences between Beineix’s film and Djian’s book aren’t quite as dramatic as Djian might imply in the quote above, but the two different approaches to telling the same story certainly makes for an interesting comparison. If you liked the film and have never read the book, I’d recommend you check it out.
I look forward to the day I can read my second Djian book. I’ve no intention of learning French now at this stage in my life, so I’m hoping he’ll drift into fashion somehow and there becomes a demand for new translations. It was only a few years ago I remember complaining how hard it was to find Haruki Murakami‘s work, and now he’s bloody everywhere, so perhaps it might happen one day. All I can really do to help the cause is write the odd blog post in my lunch-hour, which is what I’ve just done