Guys, I can’t do it, I think movie broke me. I’m not sure I have a single negative thing to say about Jean Cocteau’s 1946 movie La Belle et La Bete, not even like a snarky nitpick… well maybe, let’s find out if can I say anything bad against this beautiful surreal movie.
Before the film even starts the director asks the viewer to keep a childlike mind, that’s no problem for me. The movie proper starts with a former wealthy family trying to get by. The family consists of a father, three daughters and a son. Two out of the three daughters would rather pretend they still had their former wealth and are in fact shallow bitches. The third, Belle, is fairly content to do housework. She has an admirer, Avenant, a friend of her brother. Avenant wants to marry Belle but she declines stating she can’t leave her father.
They then get news that one of the father’s ship was recovered. When asked what she wants back from the trip, Belle asks for a rose. However the ship’s stocks was seized leaving the father with nothing. As he goes home with nothing for any of his children he stumbles on a haunting castle, where he’s well feed. Before leaving he picks a rose for Belle but the Beast appears and demands his life. The father begs and tells him it was for his daughter. The Beast tells him that he can live if his one of daughters dies in his place. The Beast allows him the use of his horse, Magnificent, and he goes home. He tells his children that he will go back to die but Belle sneaks off with Magnificent to die in her father place.
Belle enters the dreamlike castle and faints at the sight of the Beast. The Beast carries her to her room and her clothes transform into regal splendor, ah the costumes are so pretty. When she comes to the Beast tells her that every night she should dine with him. At dinner the Beast tells her Belle that she is in command of the every night the beast will ask one question, Will she marry him. She refuses him.
Belle over time becomes accustom to life with the Beast though she refuses to marry him every night and suggests that they should remain friend but Belle wants to see her father again. Through a magic mirror that the Beast has, she sees that her father is deathly ill. The Beast left Belle go back to her family. He gives her a magic glove that can teleport her there and a magic key that is to a pavilion which is the source of his power. If she does not return in a week, he will die.
Belle returns home sees they are living in poverty because of the brother’s money loaning. Her family is envious of her riches and conspires to steal the key, which they do. He brother and Avenant also steal Magnificent as the Beast sent him to retrieve Belle as she was convinced by her sisters to stay longer. However the Beast also sent the magic Mirror, Belle uses it to see the Beast’s sorrowful face. She uses the glove but realizes she forgot the key and tries to find but can’t find it anywhere. Belle returns to Beast and finds him dying. As he is dying Belle’s brother and Avenant break into the pavilion the Beast spoke of called Diana’s Pavilion, a place that no one can enter. They scale the walls and break the glass ceiling. Avenant tries to go into it but is shot by an animated statue of Diana and turns into a Beast and dies. The Beast then transform in a handsome Prince who looks like Avenant. He tells Belle that he was turned in a Beats because his parents didn’t believe in spirits and his being a Beast was their revenge. Belle tells him she loves him and the fly away to his kingdom where she will be a queen.
If you recall in my Thief of Bagdad review, I said that the characters is this movie were compelling even though they are presented simply and they are. I think this comes down to the acting. Belle is presented as earnest, sweet girl who does stand her ground. Her attachment to the Beast does come through albeit subtlety. Throughout the movie she refers to The Beast as “La Bete” or “The Beast.” When she comes back to him after seeing her family she start calling him “Ma Bete” or “My Beast.” It’s subtle but powerful.
The Beats too is subtly done. You can tell that he walking a very thin line between being a beast and acting like a human. It’s a little different than other versions where he starts acting beastly and through love starting acting like a human. It’s a nice take and it’s acted wonderfully by Jean Marais, who also played Avenant.
The only real criticism isn’t really a criticism since by the film’s own admission things don’t make sense, that the plot is meant to be simple taken at face value. So when the Beast tells us things about his power or when smoke raises off of him after killing things, it’s not explain, it just emotional.
While I do like when things are explain, most movies tend to bog down the narrative with exposition that sometimes it can ruin a movie. With this movie, it’s not really important that we know how the Beast’s power work and why Avenant transforms into a beast. The passing line about how he was transformed into a beast was just the right amount of exposition. Explaining thing too much wouldn’t have advanced the plot of a girl and a Beast falling in love nor would helped the surreal style and mood, if anything it enhanced it.
This movie gives us a very dreamlike surreal style with its special effects and camerawork. I mean it’s just a lovely movie to watch. I really love the part when Belle first enters the castle, it’s just so dreamlike. But what I really love are the costumes. They were designed by Lavain. They are very grand and beautiful. The Beast’s make-up is great. Everything about this movie is just so pretty.
One thing that bugs is because the movie is presented so simply with an emphasis on the style, I feel there is a lot to take on a symbolic nature. Like because we’re told to take it simply, there is something else to be gained from more than just the mood or effects. Like I’m suppose to take this on pretentious, intellectual level, like maybe it’s Belle’s sexual awakening or the movie is about the collapse of society and our collective inability to communicate on a metaphysical level blah, blah, blah.
The movie seems to WANT you to read into more and I don’t want to, though I bet lots of film scholars have but that is just what they do.
La Belle et la Bete a beautiful movie that offers compelling character and stunning effects, if you haven’t figured it out, I really love this movie. It also has left a impact of films, like Gaston from the Disney version is based on Avenant, in fact they were going to call him Avenant and there is a piece of conceptual art that is pretty a straight copy. And the 2004 The Phantom of the Opera copied the candelabras. Heck, even I used elements of this movie in a novel I wrote for NaNOWriMo*. There are also many others homages and tributes to the movie, there also was semi-remake back in 2014, that we’ll get to and I have a lot of choice words for that movie.
*Novel coming someday, maybe.Follow thehunchblog