Thursday, 15 November 2012

Secret Lairs: La Belle et la Bete - Review

La Belle et la Bête is a French production from 1946 by Jean Cocteau who was a filmmaker, sculptor and poet. Together with help of Rene Clement (director), Henri Alekan (cameraman) and Christian Berard (theatrical designer), they managed to create a fantasy-romance movie which is said to be the best movie of the fantasy genre ever made.

The movie is based on a traditional french fairytale of the same title, though consists of many differences between the original plot from the written and cinematic version. It shows the story of a beautfiful girl named Bella ( Josette Day) who sacrifices herself to the Beast (Jean Marais) in order to save her father (Marcel André) who stole a rose from Beasts's garden.
Later on Belle discovers that not only the owner of the castle is enchanted but also the whole place. The way the movie makers created the fairytale’s location is breathtaking; everything about it is perfect in every detail. The whole creation of the movie set, costume design, make up and scenes are all evidence for stating that La Belle et la Bette is a visual excellence and a production which never had a chance to use computers or digital medias and still deals with viewers perfectly throughout all years. As Boba Fett  states in the quotation:

"There are lots of magical moments in the movie. They spend lots of time on the movie its look and it has some great looking sets and costumes in it, as well as some good and convincing looking make-up for the Beast character and some innovating movie tricks for its magical moments." (2010)

These days the most advanced computers and digital solutions would probably be used for creating the Beast's features but one must say and agree that La Belle et la Bette is a production strong enough to endure in the history of cinema without being remade with use of digital effects and trickery and still be considered as a strong production.
Most of the people know this story because of the 1991 Disney movie of the same title. It's very different from the cinematic version in many aspects, though it doesn't mean one can state that one version is better than the other. Both of them carry the fairy tale atmosphere, show a touching story of love, acceptance and trust. Ewing in his review outline a very important difference of Disney's and Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast":

" What makes this version of The Beauty and the Beast notable is that there are no real villains. There might be characters that the audience doesn’t like, but everyone has a legitimate motivation, even if what they do might end up being wrong."
(Ewing James Blake, 2011)

Disney’s movies have always been created for children and their fragile minds. In order to depict what's good and what's bad, The Beauty and the Beast needed a terrifying villain, who would interrupt the lovers' peaceful lives. Cocteau's movie doesn't need it, although it can be watched by either older or younger audiences. Children would probably find this version a bit scary yet fascinating, and when all grown up, they would realize the true values behind the movie such as parts of the production which they were not able to notice at the early point of their lives.

"Cocteau creates a world filled with symbolism and a total dreamlike atmosphere. "
(Bonjour Tristesse, 2011)

There is something erotic in the way Cocteau decided to present the magic of the Beast's castle. Candelabra held by human arms, observing statues and following eyes; the whole place gives the feeling of tension of some kind with suspense and ongoing magic, although Belle never seemed scared or suspicious. She accepted her new enchanted servants withough hesitation, without wondering if they have been created to do only good. On the other hand with the castle's ruler being gentle and kind the castle itself couldn't have been an evil place and Belle must have realized that in the very beginning.

"Cocteau's version is lushly, deliciously frightful, embellishing the basic fairy tale with a surreal, delicate eroticism of spying mirrors; of a magic castle with seeming peeping-tom eyes, all the better to satisfy one's every whim; of a beast as gentle and amorous as he is unwillingly corrupt."
(Johansonn Maryann, 2012)

Although the whole movie was a beautiful mixture of magic and theatrical design, the ending opens doors to a new discussion. Enchanted hands and statues with human faces were all so real that nothing really announced 'the flying away into the sky' part which seemed almost alienated and odd. The movie could use more screening time to solve few problems which have been treated less importantly in the end (The Beast having face of Belle's brother's best friend, mysterious guardian etc.). However, Belle’s attitude and compromising acceptance of all events have been summed up into a single phrase which she resites, stating ‘I like feeling afraid’. This statement should leave the whole audience without a doubt.

* Ewing James Blake, 2011, online source:

2. Stills:

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