Beauty and the Beast
Directed by Jean Cocteau
The story of a gentle-hearted beast in love with a simple and beautiful girl. She is drawn to the repellent but strangely fascinating Beast, who tests her fidelity by giving her a key, telling her that if she doesn't return it to him by a specific time, he will die of grief. She is unable to return the key on time, but it is revealed that the Beast is the genuinely handsome one. A simple tale of tragic love that turns into a surreal vision of death, desire, and beauty.
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★★★★★ review by sydney on Letterboxd
show this to your kids instead of the cartoon so they'll know that magic is real.
★★★★★ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd
There is only one word to describe Jean Cocteau’s spellbinding adaptation of Beauty and the Beast - Magical.
The film begins with a direct plea to the audience, a plea to simply believe as a child would: to believe in the fantastical and magical. Whilst it expresses Cocteau’s intent it is perhaps a redundant introduction when it is so easy to believe in this cursed and enchanted world. It is one of those rare films that has enthralled countless generations, and old and young alike, without talking down to either audience. Above all it is the ultimate fairy-tale film that utilises the illusionary qualities of the medium to their fullest.
Whilst the film could be interpreted as having real world parallels (it was released directly after World War II with the Beast perhaps being seen as a manifestation of France itself at the time) it works just as beautifully as a straightforward folktale. Cocteau fills the film with subtle, and not so subtle, sexualised imagery making the Beast’s castle a highly charged and sensual arena for this unconventional but passionate love story. I have read criticisms that the story romanticises domestic abuse which I find interesting when it is Belle who ultimately has control in the relationship and is the one able to mould the Beast into a new person.
In most adaptations of the story the finale is anticlimactic as the audience have been invested in the character of the Beast and not the handsome but bland Prince he becomes. Cocteau understands this and slyly subverts expectation with the film’s climax being an obvious disappointment for Belle as much as it is for its audience as the realisation of what she has gained, but ultimately lost, begins to sink in.
La Belle et la Bête is arguably one of the most striking films of the ‘40s. The beautiful black and white photography, contrasting the luminous light and secretive shadows, helps give the film a truly ethereal and dreamlike quality. Coupled with the charmingly lo-fi but incredibly effective special effects (human arms for candelabras, stone busts with roving eyes etc.) it creates a rich and beguiling world of supernatural enchantment.
The Beast’s makeup deserves special mention too as it completely transforms Jean Marais whilst still providing the human qualities to shine through the heavy prosthesis. Marais is sensational as the Beast, bringing sensitivity, vulnerability and frustration to the role. The fact he struggles to convince in his other two roles, both as the de-cursed Prince and love rival, Avenant, is perhaps a deliberate ploy on Cocteau’s part but I cannot deny that some of the performances are less than impressive, particularly the overacting and jealous sisters. Thankfully, the key roles (Belle and Beast) are exemplary.
It might not be perfect, but like the Beast himself, it is a film with hidden depth and beguiling magic; a flawed but undisputed masterpiece.
★★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
Jean Cocteau's Beauty and The Beast is a magical and transcendent ode to the limits of fantasy, brought to life with exceptional performances, awe-inspiring production design, startling atmosphere, and luscious direction. In particular, the close ups are given a mesmerizing and transfixing sense of purity, adding to the theatrical and intimate feel of the entire film.
This is the first time I've seen this masterpiece, and I can't wait to fall under its spell again.
★★★★½ review by Dragonknight on Letterboxd
Film #22 of Project 40
”Don't address me as sir, I'm called the Beast!”
Before starting his magical tale of doomed princes and charming girls Jean Cocteau takes a moment and asks us to put away our rational and mathematical minds aside for 90 minutes and join him in something which doesn't make sense, something ridiculously childish, something that can’t be analyzed and dissected by logic. From that opening title card it’s obvious that La Belle et la Bête is going to be a movie exploring the always spellbinding territory of magic and fantasy, and when it comes to fantasy you know that you shouldn't ask a question as you won’t get an answer, it’s all about joy, thrill, surprise and most importantly atmosphere. While this prospect may not fascinate those who like realistic worlds with pieces that work like the cogwheels of a giant machine but for those who believe in the magic of storytelling La Belle et la Bête is the ultimate fairytale festival, so if you’re looking for a miracle say those magical words and there you have it: Once upon a time...
Before anything this visual bonanza is a celebration of imagination highlighting the magic of storytelling and why it has fascinated generations of human beings across time and space, you can forget about the limitations that the physical world puts to you and enter a world where the impossible becomes possible. While this is the key element of fantasy universe but even in the most realistic stories there is this sense of smashing the brutal restrictions of the material world which ultimately attracts all of us to the one of the oldest and most fundamental aspects of human life: the endless charm of imagination and the power it gives you too build everything you always wanted.
There are some noticeable and significant differences between this and the 1991 Disney musical which makes the experience surprisingly a little bit unpredictable as the the themes and tone of these two films are quite different (which is totally understandable), while here the love story between the charming village girl who sacrifices herself and the monstrous Beast is one of the important aspects of the film but there are other elements which are equally significant. I think the most important one is that poetic fantasy nature of the story and how it goes beyond just a technical aspect and becomes part of film’s thematic universe as the faith of Beauty in magic comes in contrast with the more concrete thinking of her nonbeliever siblings and how eventually this defines the fate of these characters. Inner beauty vs. outer beauty and how it affects the way people perceive the world, think and ultimately act is another issue that is addressed by Cocteau.
But like any other work of fantasy La Belle et la Bête relies on its surrealistic and abstract images and when you factor the technical limitations of cinema in mid forties – and we’re talking about a film made in the war-struck France and not a Hollywood production – you can see how challenging it must have been for Cocteau to find his ideal visual style. The film has two major locations, one is the village setting – the real world – which is portrayed as simply as possible, the architecture of the buildings and the way Cocteau avoids using any type of cinematic exaggeration when he wants to portray this world all highlight that material aspect of the world. But when it comes to the Beast’s castle he gives us all sorts of magical and surreal pictures, from the primitive yet incredibly hair-raising make up of the Beast to the interior and exterior design of the sets to those creepy hands that move around this part of the film is filled with imaginative and poetic pictures taking the whole experience to another level.
Jean Cocteau is a preacher who is inviting us to believe in the world of fantasy and the magical world of fairytales and his Bible is La Belle et la Bête.
★★★★★ review by Wesley R. Ball on Letterboxd
Jean Cocteau's adaptation of the timeless French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête is a masterful feat of special effects and makeup that surprisingly doesn't feel dated in the least with its age. Cocteau was a genius filmmaker, with such towering classics as The Orphic Trilogy and Les Enfants Terribles (which he wrote), his vision of Beauty and the Beast should be taken no less seriously. Make no mistake, this is a perfect adaptation that almost makes the Disney version feel like a cheap second-rate knockoff (although the latter does have marvelous technical feats of its own).
I always find myself fascinated with seeing earlier, less "Disney-fied" adaptations of classic tales such as this. When I was much younger, I watched a faithful version of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, and the ending was nothing short of shocking to me. That was one of the first indications to me that perhaps Disney's family-oriented visions of these classic stories aren't what they were originally intended to be, and the truth is that finding out how vastly different the source material can be to the Disney versions is astounding. That's not to discredit any of these Disney adaptations in the least- on the contrary, they're timeless classics all on their own. It's just fascinating to me how completely different some of the original stories were compared to the cartoon reimaginations, and trying to imagine these Disney cartoons if they were depicted as they originally were made can sometimes be downright disturbing.
However, Cocteau's vision is certainly not to be discounted. It's filled with a spellbinding soundtrack, marvelous costumes and makeup, and superb acting. Cocteau's own directing, coupled with the uncredited assistance of Rene Clement, provides a faithful reconstruction of the childhood fairy tale like I've never seen before. The chemistry between Belle and the Beast is astounding, utilizing two magnificent performances from two outstanding actors. The special effects are a wonder for their time, transporting the audiences of the day directly into the whimsical world of this classic fantasy. La Belle et la Bête just might be Jean Cocteau's greatest masterpiece, and it may be the adaptation I love more than Disney's classic vision (although I don't discount the latter in the least). An occasionally poignant masterwork that adapts its source to a more human level, bringing the fairytale classic to larger than life status.
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