Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Jean Cocteau's 'La Belle et la Bete', 1946

This was another film I was really looking forward to seeing, obviously being brought up with Disney films I was excited about seeing where their ideas came from, and I definitely wasn't disappointed. As Empire have put it in their five star review: 50 years after its original release, and it remains the finest telling of the Beauty And The Beast fable.

Where it was made such a long time ago its dialogue and special effects haven't all aged that well but that said I still found it a thoroughly enjoyable film.  Once the small failings are taken into account it wasn't very hard at all to start warming to the characters and really enjoying the film visually and emotionally but feeling more for the beast than I did for belle.  I believe that although the beast has been visually portrayed as 'ugly' and 'monstrous' his behaviour is more than gentlemanly.  He obviously struggles to fight his nature as 'the beast', even when in the presence of Belle, the woman he wants to win the heart of more than anything. This is supported by Anna E. Altmann and Gail De Vos's view that "
the beast is a tragic figure of great power...he became the beast through no fault of his own". The audience, despite not being told of the origins of his curse, feel for him from the beginning because of his clear struggle to be as human as possible.  One of the signs I noticed was his constant playing with his jewels around his chest, this is an extremely human trait, to be busying your hands when your mind is restless and worried. A nice contrast would be Belle's brothers friend, though human and very handsome his inside is beastly, the most prominent example of this is when he's speaking to her brother about getting information from Belle as to the Beast's whereabouts, he says that he'll "tear the secret from her". This is an extremely brutal and beastly thing to say, especially about someone you're supposed to be in love with. Not only is he unpleasant vocally but in his actions as well, at the very beginning he tries to force Belle to kiss him and his brutish behaviour makes the mild mannered but tortured Beast seem much, much more appealing.

On the most prominent aspect of this film though, visually it's beautiful.  My favourite moments are as she's entering and running from the castle. She appears to run so slowly, almost as if in a dream sequence, preventing her escape. Not only does this slowing of her movement represent that dread you feel as you can't get away from something in a dream, but it allows the audience to see every piece of material move and flow behind her.  

It's an absolutely breathtaking piece of film to watch and I believe the directors background in theatre is what made it so beautiful to watch. He clearly understands how to create an atmosphere with very little material and limited tonal range, which is seen in the black hallway leading into the castle with only severed hands holding large candelabras to guide the guest. This is supported by John Howard Reid when he said "Cocteau deliberately preferred to employ fantastic on-camera effects...Cocteau reasoned that these devices would give the movie a unique atmosphere. He was right."  He also went on to say that the film was an "unbridled fairy tale, full of magic and fantasy" and I would definitely agree. I'd also like to mention the use of Ancient Greek mythology in the Beast's Pavillion to Diana. 

Its symbolism is extremely subtle, Diana the huntress is known for being chaste and punishing those that threaten this chastity.  One example of this is her turning Actaeon into a deer, then to be mauled and killed by his own hunting dogs, for looking at her while she bathed. Her presence in the Beast's pavillion could be seen as suggesting that she is the one that turned him into the beast to punish his family, she is associated with living in woods and the Beast's home is surrounded by nature. Had this been explained in the narrative with more than two lines than the end may not have felt so abrupt.

I must say, I really enjoyed the whole of this film, it flowed as elegantly as the silks, but the ending was so fast and outlandish I was left a little confused.  I think if there had been a bit more explanation as to what happened to the Beast to make him human and whether Belle actually loved him or his new face I wouldn't have felt as if I'd missed something. 

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