Wednesday film preview – La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast)

La Belle et la Bête was directed by Jean Cocteau, one of the most multi-talented artists of the 20th century. In addition to being a director, he was a poet, novelist, painter, playwright, set designer, and actor. Cocteau was still better known as a poet when he directed his first full length feature, so it is perhaps to be expected that La Belle et la Bête is suffused with a lyricism that sets it apart from films of the time. It is, nonetheless, a delightful and surprisingly traditional retelling of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s gothic fairy tale, capturing much of the French author’s disturbing ambiguity.

The opening scenes of family life may appear mannered, and the comedy may be a little broad, but stick with it, as once the Beauty enters the Beast’s castle, the movie take on a magical, almost hallucinogenic quality that is quite compelling to watch. Thereafter, this is resolutely the Beast’s film and all about Jean Marias’s performance, his adolescent obsession for Josette Day’s remote Beauty giving her little more to do than act as a cypher for the unobtainable.

With arms protruding from walls, and actors standing in for statues, the special effects may seem crude, even by standards of the day, but that somehow only adds to the fantastical quality of the images presented. It is as if all of this is being remembered, but not clearly, like a vivid dream slipping from the memory, even as it is retold the morning after.

By David Vass