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I first saw this when about 10 years old, it made little impression on
me then, probably because I couldn't hope to appreciate it or
understand it all when so young. Next time I was 25 and was bowled over
by its imagery, and as I've got older come to appreciate it more and
So much for watching it through a child's eyes and accepting the fantasy at face value! At the beginning Cocteau states "Once upon a time...", but really for discerning adult cineastes (and/or poets) to drop their guards and enjoy it for what it was - a magical filmic fantasy. It's uniformly marvellous in all departments, direction, photography, acting, music, design, and Cocteau trotted out all his favourite cinematic tricks - just part of the sequence between Blood of a Poet in '30 and Testament of Orphee in '61. The script was suitably steeped in non sequiteurs and puzzles to add to the heaviness of it all. Er, not that it matters but what happened to Ludovic?
The wonderful dark brooding smoky atmosphere is the most important aspect though - there are few films I've seen with such a powerful cinematic atmosphere, Reinhardt's Midsummer Night's Dream is one and Dead of Night another etc. But the romantic melancholic atmosphere here was something ... incredible. It was only possible with black and white nitrate film stock to capture such gleaming, glistening and time- and place-evoking moving images - it hasn't been quite the same since 1950 with safety film in use.
If you're an adult about to give it your first (let yourself) go, I envy thee! All in all a lovely inconsequential fantasy, make what erudite and informative allegorical allusions you will.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In France ,the fairy tale "La Belle et la Bête " is a classic by Madame
Leprince de Beaumont.Try to read it if you haven't because you will
realize that although Cocteau adapted the story,he took it to new
limits ,he dramatically expanded the scope,and most of all,he wiped out
an obsolete grating moral.
Mrs De Beaumont's fairy tale insists on virtue ,her story takes virtue over beauty,wit or anything life can bring.The two bad gals are strictly punished at the end of the story:they become statues at the gate of their sister's palace but -supreme humiliation-,they will keep their mind beneath the stone which covers them ,and thus be able to watch their sister's happiness.
While keeping the two sisters' characters,Cocteau leaves the "moral " angle far behind magic,symbolism,surrealism and psychoanalysis.Jean Marais plays three parts:Avenant,la Belle's suitor ,the Beast (four hours of make-up and terrible sufferings during the shooting:Jean Marais was one of the greatest actors France ever had -proof positive was that the new wave (with the exception of jacques Demy) clique never used him-,and the prince.These three entities that finally make one predates Bruno Bettelheim by thirty years:this is not only because Belle does not want to leave her father that she does not want to marry Avenant:she's afraid of the man,he's the real beast.This triple part is Cocteau's genius.Cocteau dropped out the good fairy who appears in a Belle's dream and then at the end of Leprince de Beaumont's story when she punishes the "vilainesses "and rewards the "good ones" Instead ,we have these sublime lines:
-You resemble someone I knew...
-Does it worry you?
-Yes ....(then a beaming face) No!!!
Two words coexist -like in the literary work-:the mundane bourgeois house of the merchant;the Bête's mansion,where everything is possible,where Cocteau uses special effect to create pure poetry,extraordinary enchantment .The two characters seem to act as if they are in a ballet. The passage between the two is first the mysterious forest.Then the Beast reveals his secrets five magic clues:the rose,the golden key,the glove,the ring and the mirror -some of them were in the story- and a horse "le magnifique" as the two worlds intertwines towards the end:Belle's room in her father 's room,in her room in the palace,Avenant coming to her rescue while the Beast is dying,the two characters soon to become one.
This is the best adaptation of a fairy tale for the screen.By writing the cast and credits on a blackboard,Cocteau winks at childhood -for a child he writes everything's possible -besides,it's because the prince did not believe in the fairies -all that is hidden for our poor rational spirit- that he was sentenced to his bestial life.Bruno Bettelheim thought children intuitively actually understood what lied beneath the fairy tales.They do not cry when the wolf eats the first two little pigs because thy do know that there is only one pig ,at three stages of its development.They won't cry when Avenant will be hit by Goddess Diana's arrow because they do understand in their subconscious that all in all,Avenant and the Beast are the same entity:beautiful prince,horrible
beast or simple young man share the same mystery.
Michel Tournier said that when his writing was at the height of its powers,he could appeal to children as well.Cocteau did the same for the seventh art.
This film immediately captured my attention with the written comments
at the beginning of the film. Director Jean Cocteau begins this story
by explaining why he wanted to make this film. He talks about the
passion behind the picture and all the social unrest at the time. He
ends this written dialogue with a comment that will forever remain in
my mind. He says, "...and now, we begin our story with a phrase that is
like a time machine for children: Once Upon a Time..." This just sent
chills down my spine. Why? Because, although he is addressing children,
I feel that it is really a phrase meant for all of us. It is used to
bring the child out in all of us, to show us that we do not need to be
4 or 5 to fully understand the themes of this film ... we are meant to
just sit back and let the film take us to another mythological time.
The amazing set design also impressed me about this film. Again, without the modern conveniences of today's cinema, Cocteau had to improvise. This was hard for him to do. Not only were there huge budgetary issues (since it was the end of WWII and France was about to be demolished), but also he was racing against an impending war. Fear was deep in the hearts of the French after WWII, and what a better way to rally your people then with a story about love found in the darkest of places.
This film also made me very sad. I am sometimes disgusted with the way that Disney ... for lack of a better word ... Disney-fies their fairy tales. I think after watching this masterpiece I will have trouble ever being able to go back to the computer generated "Song as Old as Time" version that Disney plastered their trademark to. Never have I been so impressed with black and white cinematography as I have been with this film. The actress that plays Belle, Josette Day, steals the camera every time it is on her. She looks so radiant with the black and white that to see a colorized version of this film would completely do it injustice. The power and emotion that comes between Belle and the Beast feels so true. Cocteau has somehow grabbed the true feeling of two people that are complete opposites that seem to find true love in the coldest of places. I would be one of those reviewers that believes that if this film were released today, it would still pull the audiences in as it did the first time. Only proving that it was made well before it's time, it shows so many of the characteristics of the modern day movie. Even the special effects seem perfect for this film. Even with budget being sub-par, we are able to get a true feeling that this Beast is one of the magical kind.
Oh, this film was superb. I would have to say that it is the best adaptation of a fairy tale that I have seen today. Definitely my best 40s film (made in 1946), and possibly the best telling of Beauty and the Beast EVER!!
Grade: ***** out of *****
Cocteau was a poet. Make no mistake. First and foremost. Not only in
history's mind, but in his own as well. We are truly blessed that he was a
filmmaker as well, and a brilliant one at that, marvelously weaving
a tapestry that mystically incorporated both words and sounds with the
beautiful visions that lay captured in his mind.
Cocteau's vision of "Beauty and the Beast" is a visual marvel. To explain these marvels for you would be to ruin the experience. And it is an experience. But it is one of the poet: borne of symbolism and mythology. This is a fairy tale that a child could appreciate for its romance and beauty, and a parent for its intelligence and use of symbolism and metaphor. I recommend this film unreservedly. If you like classics and consider yourself a serious filmgoer, Cocteau's film is essential to your education.
When special effects anthologies are shown "Metropolis" is called the
grandfather of film FX, "2001" is the son and "Star Wars" is the grandson.
Invariably the French are forgotten. This is shameful, since the French
were truly the masters of FX or "trick" shots. Following my analogy,
Cocteau was the heir apparent of Melies.
"Beauty and the Beast" not only beautifully re-tells a beautiful story, but powerfully displays the Beast's magic. Cocteau's genius is that he makes simple editing techniques look like art and in this movie like the combination of art and magic. Watch what happens when Beauty gives one of her sisters a present from the Beast's castle which the Beast meant only for Beauty.
The version I saw was in French with English subtitles, but the visuals, in glorious black and white, are so stunning, you could almost cover up the subtitles and still understand what's going on.
I can't recommend this movie enough! It is #1 on my foreign film list.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To a degree of success few films have ever achieved, Jean Cocteau's
Beauty and the Beast (1946) balances film's opposite yet equal
capacities to record life as it is and to create completely imaginary
landscapes via editing and optical effects. Most Cocteau films veer
heavily toward the fantastic, the mythic, the poetic, or the
surrealistic, but in Beauty he rendered a mise en scene based largely
on 18th century Dutch painting, employed an invisible camera and
editing style, and relied on conventional storytelling techniques in
order to make his retelling of the classic fairy tale as realistic as
possible. Nevertheless, Beauty and the Beast is primarily noted as
among the most successful adaptations of a fairy tale ever made and one
of the greatest fantasy films of any type. And this is true despite
Cocteau's enormous handicap of working in a recently war-ravaged
country with minimal financial and technical resources.
One influential and provocative interpretative approach to Beauty and the Beast is through Freudian psychology. From this perspective, Beauty's story is a symbolic sexual drama in which a young woman breaks free from a psychologically incestuous relationship with her father (and brother?), overcomes her fear of male sexuality and of her own, and ultimately enters mature womanhood.
Strong evidence to support this interpretation can be found in the framing of the film's opening and closing scenes. In the film's opening scene Belle's suitor, Avenant, shoots a (phallic) arrow that misses its ostensible target and enters a ladies-only bedchamber where it lands across the mirror image of Belle on the floor she is polishing. Uninvited, Avenant invades the bedchamber, retrieves the arrow, and uses it to embrace/restrain Belle. He then proposes marriage, and - when he is denied - forces his attention on Belle with something close to physical assault. From a Freudian perspective, Avenant represents the unleashed libido that Belle is not psychologically or culturally prepared to confront directly.
Avenant, in turn, receives his just comeuppance in the film's final scene when he is slain by an arrow from the bow of Diana, protector of chastity and the presiding goddess in the Beast's garden pavilion. Entry to this pavilion (female sexual nature), is permissible only by using a golden key, dominion over which the Beast has chivalrously granted to Belle. (i.e. the woman says when) Yet with the aid of Belle's evil and duplicitous older sisters, Avenant comes into false possession of the golden key. This alone would negate the legitimacy of his entry to the pavilion, but he decides to enter even more illicitly by smashing the hymen-like glass portal hidden on the building's roof, thus prompting his ironic execution via the same phallic symbol with which his pursuit of Belle had begun.
This framing symmetry of two spatial "violations" in the opening and closing scenes of the film is not accidental. It underlines the difference between the Beast's tempered, courtly masculinity and Avenant's unrestrained ego and desire. The film ends not only with the Beast's transformation into the handsome prince thanks to Belle's loving gaze, but also with the transformation of Avenant into the guise of the beast, a physical manifestation of his unrestrained inner animal. That Avenant, the Beast, and the Prince are played by the same actor suggests their Freudian interplay of id, superego, and ego - which Belle is also working out in feminine terms as she resists and then accepts the journey from her father's house, through the Beast's castle, and on to her married royal destiny.
Many scenes throughout Beauty and the Beast acquire added depth through a Freudian approach. The cutting of the rose in the Beast's garden, for instance, can be seen as a symbolic violation that evokes the Beast and begins the liberation of Belle from bondage to her father and evil-sister Mother substitutes. Edited in jump cuts, the threshold scene when the Beast first carries Belle into her castle bedchamber depicts the repeated transformation of Belle's costume from servant/child to woman/bride, the very journey she must undertake as she leaves her "maidenhood" and her father's house and accepts her passage to adult female sexuality and maturity.
Belle's journey between the Merchant's house and the Beast's castle is facilitated by two decidedly Freudian symbols of masculine sexuality: the horse, Magnificent, and the Beast's hunting gloves, steaming with the blood and scent of his animal/masculine power. Indeed, the magic words that Belle must say to prompt Magnificent's gallop back to the castle indicate the psychological necessity of her journey: "go where I am going! Go, go, go!" The relatively more subtle symbol of the stallion as agent of transportation is later replaced by the glove which not only steams with the Beast's masculine power, but which she dons while reclined on the respective beds of her bed chambers in the Castle and the Merchant's house.
That Belle's journey of maturation must be undertaken, despite her reluctance, is most poignantly underscored in the scenes of Belle's return to the Merchant's house after she has lived for a while in the Beast's castle. In her father's house, she rapidly regresses to the physical and psychological bondage that had characterized her condition at the beginning of the film - only now the audience, if not Belle herself - is painfully aware of the arrested development it represents.
Like so many Greta Garbos, we want her out of the there and back with the Beast where she belongs!
This might be my nominee for the most beautiful film ever made. It ranks
one of my absolute favorites.
So many images stick in your head afterwards: the billowing draperies; the beast's flashing eyes when he first appears; the way his ears prick up when a deer moves through the woods-- he's trying to talk to Belle but can't help but be distracted-- one of those perfect moments; the way his hands smoke from the fresh blood when he's returned from the hunt; the living eyes in the carved stone; the hall full of arm/candelabras, turning as Belle passes by; Josette Day (quite an image all by herself); the moment that I can't even describe when she sort of folds into the sheets and vanishes-- so on, so on.
This is, in short, what film can do, when it tries. This was made long before computer graphics and the accompanying revolution in special effects, but if any of our modern directors deployed their resources as imaginatively, or as sensitively, as Cocteau did in the 40s, film today might be worth the paper it's printed on. But they don't and it isn't. Ah well. Get this and watch it; all due praise to Disney, but this is the fairy tale to see.
I first saw this film, believe it or not, as a young boy of about four or five. The year was about 1952 or 1953, and I watched it on a typical TV set for those days - a very small screen with a very grainy picture. I remember being mesmerized by the film, particularly the ending. I must have asked my mother the name of it, for I never forgot it. I'm sure I didn't understand it much, it was just that I was swept away by the artfulness and magic of it. Its memory remained in my consciousness for about forty years, during which time I never once saw the film or even heard about it. Then I happened to run across it in a catalog. I just had to have it and ordered it immediately. It was an incredible experience to see this film again after so many decades, and to connect again with my child-self. I could see why the movie had made such an impression on me and haunted me all these years. As it turned out, the film had even more meaning for me as an adult, since the main theme had a special, personal relevance for me. Amazingly, I had also developed an obsession with roses, and tended to a garden of hundreds of rose bushes. All in all, a very beautiful film and a simple yet magical tale.
This is what true movie-making is about. There is no CGI, no pop
culture jokes, no stupid sex scenes. This IS what love stories are made
The classic fairy tale is given remarkable treatment by Jean Cocteau as he tells the tale of a beautiful girl who falls in the love with a tortured but charming Beast (played by Jean Maris in a stunning performance). This movie just seems to have it all: it's visuals are very impressive, the romance is very charming and not at all phoned in, the story is engaging and surprisingly tense, and the acting is just superb. Although there are no big movie names, you won't care for a second as this talented group will win you completely over.
Not only is this fantasy at it's very best, it often comes off more as a poem rather than a movie but you won't care. It's one of the most visually dazzling poems ever put on film.
Jean Cocteau, famous for this work and for his "Orpheus" trilogy (which
includes his breakthrough Blood of a Poet), takes the viewer on a
journey that he requests at the start to be thought of as a pure
fantasy- Once Upon a Time- and, thus, the viewer can expect anything
from the inventive, abstract auteur. There is plenty that Cocteau uses
from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's original story, and makes
entirely his own with his brand of enlightening the visual medium-
surrealism in a subtler fashion than in his debut.
Most people know the story of Beauty and the Beast, even if one hasn't seen the flashy, fully romanticized Disney flick: an old man, in danger of losing most of his earnings, goes off one night in the darkness and fog to return home. He's detoured onto the property of the Beast (Jean Marais, truly with the skills of a stage actor), a creature who's been in a world of loneliness and conflict with his primal instincts and his human heart. He lets the old man go, as long as he can bring one of his daughters over to take his place.
His family includes three daughters, two of which are spoiled and another, Bela (Josette Day), who is like the servant of the house to them. Bela agrees, and when she arrives at the castle, she finds that it's like nothing she's ever seen before: arms holding candles, statues with eyes, and a mirror that can give the Beast sight of Bela when he wants to. The story unfolds, as some of us can guess, and when Bela returns home to visit her ailing father, her descriptions of the Beast as brutish yet cordial and sad, infuriates Ludivoic (Michael Auclair) who's been pining for Bela's hand in marriage. This leads up to an ending we can assume from the start, and it may be varied on the viewer whether or not it seems rushed or leaving a loophole or other.
Cocteau tells the story, with the obvious psychological comparisons between humans and the Beast(s) in us all, and he does so gracefully, however he has his collaborators in tuning the right mood- Christian Berard, Lucien Carre, and Rene Moulart combine to create some of the most dankly elegant sets/design to any film of its time, mostly in the rooms of the castle, and also in the minor touches of the forests. Their backdrop gives Henri Alekan the motives to add cinematography of a truly evocative timing and grace. He doesn't add or take away shadows in certain scenes to make it more beautiful, he adds them so he can apply the right light to the scene, and the results only make it all the more-so worthwhile.
There was something in me that thought, while viewing Beauty and the Beast, that this version could be suitable for (intelligent) children. Now, writing this commentary, I'm not so sure- for American audiences it is a change of pace from filmmakers using he standard visual effects and computer enhancements, and I've always been of the opinion that kids need a peek at a few dark movies during their adolescence to prepare them for what's coming up. But, it is from a different time, has subtitles, and the actors sometime seem to inhabit the landscape and involvement of an opera over that of a movie. I can definitely pin-point this work, to rap this up, as a highlighted mark in the history of (French) film, with an artist who can take his ideas and transfer them to a past work and make them as palatable, and at the least fascinating to the common film-fan, as possible for the period it was made.
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