Saturday, October 18, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

La Belle et la Bête; Fantasy, France, 1946; D: Jean Cocteau, S: Josette Day, Jean Marais, Mila Parély, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair

Belle is a young girl who has to do all the dirty work her home, while her lazy sisters don't care about her. One night, her father gets lost in the forest and stumbles upon a castle. When he picks up a rose, a humanoid Beast shows up and threatens to kill him unless one of his daughters wants to take his place. Father runs away back home and Belle takes his place. She is repulsed by the Beast's ugliness, but tolerates him in the castle. When she goes for a week to visit her father, she returns to find the Beast almost dead from depression. But her love transforms him into a human and they live happily ever after.

A classic movie adaptation of a classic fairytale, "Beauty and the Beast" symbolically tells one of the oldest stories ever told, the one about an ugly man trying to charm and gain the love of a beautiful woman, but it does so in a unobtrusive way, understandable even to the youngest audience. Director Jean Cocteau directs the film almost as a surreal fantasy using many bizarre ideas (a hand emerging from the table; moving statues; smoke coming from the Beast's fingers; Belle's sisters use onions to make it seem as if they are crying because of her) and camera tricks (reverse scenes) to craft and enhance the mystical mood, yet it's a pity he somewhat neglected the middle part of the film, the most crucial one, where the relationship between Belle and the Beast remained thin and only of symbolic emotional charge, leaving a rather cold impression. Still, Cocteau's playful nature goes so far that he even puts inventive touches in the opening credits, where the cast members are written on a blackboard, while the set-design and the original story build up give the movie almost an expressionistic touch.


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