Beauty and the Beast (1946) Poster

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Magical Misty Tour de force
Spondonman25 December 2004
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 more.

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.
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A Great Freudian Fable
EThompsonUMD12 March 2008
Warning: 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!
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Visually stunning
Kinch41723 October 2000
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.
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From the fairy tale to Cocteau.
dbdumonteil24 November 2002
Warning: 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.
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As beautiful as they come...
miloc5 March 2002
This might be my nominee for the most beautiful film ever made. It ranks as 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.
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Once upon our time...
film-critic23 September 2004
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 *****
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A truly wondrous film
Herbest85 October 2009
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 of.

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.
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Beautiful, poetic, and haunting
paulmg4 January 2000
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 together 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.
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Dream-like Magical Film
p_cayer24 January 2004
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.
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Mesmerising and unforgettable
Maddyclassicfilms27 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
La belle et la bête is directed by Jean Cocteau, is based on the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and stars Jean Marais, Josette Day and Marcel Andre.

The film is a magical and poetic adaptation of de Beaumont's classic fairy tale.Without a doubt this is one of the best films to come out of France during the 1940's. Featuring some of the most stunning visuals ever put on film, including the candles held by human arms, Belle gliding down vast hallways, a gateway of trees in the woods and the famous magic mirror.

La belle et la bete tells the story of a wealthy and much loved man(Marcel Andre)who after losing his income travels from home to the town to discuss the problem.He has three daughters the two eldest Felicie(Mila Parely)and Adelaide(Nane Germon)are vain and live for things like balls and society events.

And then there's his pride and joy, the gentle and beautiful Belle(Josette Day).Belle is being courted by the handsome Avenant(Jean Marais)her brothers friend.Before her father leaves he asks each of them what gift they would like the first two ask for a parrot and a monkey,Belle asks for a rose because they have none here.

Coming home through the misty and vast woods he comes across a huge castle. What's inside mesmerises the old man as the enchanted objects assist him to dinner including candles attached to human arms and fireplace statues which come to life. After a grand meal he ventures outside into the grounds where he comes across a rosebush,he picks a rose and is stopped by the owner, a towering and frightening beast(Jean Marais).He says that for him to escape death for his crime of picking a rose, one of his daughters must stay with him.

Belle decides to stay there and the beast hopes she will fall in love with him and break the curse placed over him and his home.Their slowly growing love is tender and intensely moving.Belle is both sickened and fascinated by him and frightened by her growing feelings of affection and later desire for him.He is at once a sympathetic character and you pity him and his plight and desire he is not in the least frightening and this only adds to his appeal.The moral of this story is without a doubt don't judge someone on appearance only. What should make you happy or angry is their inner self and their actions and deeds.

Featuring some of the most imaginative and breath taking special effects ever put on screen, a touching love story and a fine cast with a special mention going to Jean Marais, who makes the beast human and believable even when under layers of heavy makeup. Without a doubt this is a must see. Cocteau offers us a doorway to pure fantasy, he even has a message come up at the beginning reminding us that this is a fairytale and should just be enjoyed for itself.
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one of a kind perfect and unforgettable
A_Different_Drummer17 December 2014
So many amazing things here.

The story is iconic and archetypal. Not merely "a" love story but arguably "the" love story from which all other love stories have evolved. If you are writing your doctorate on Men & Women, you could do worse than use this story as the basis for your thesis.

The fact that it was made at all -- most the filming took place in France at the end of the occupation.

The genius of Cocteau, who gets so much more from camera angles and good actors than any modern anime.

The special effects are astonishing considering, in theory, they did not even exist. At times, the character, Beast, seems to be smoking as if he is on fire. Seriously.

So it is in French. The dialogue is so simple to follow you could actually learn French by the time it is over.

Brilliant and unequalled. Could be seen again and again.
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beautiful interpretation
didi-524 July 2004
This famed Jean Cocteau film of the 1940s plays like a poem, moving across the screen. In a triple role (Avenant, a friend of Beauty's brother; The Beast; and the Prince) Jean Marais is curiously flat as a human – it is as the sensual, passionate, sensitive, and complex Beast that he really shines. Josette Day is little more than adequate as Beauty, but good enough for the role that has been written for her.

The tale is one of awakening, of desires, and of strange surroundings. Living statues and disembodied arms holding candles aloft populate the twilight world of the Beast's castle, where the fate of a young girl turns on the plucking of a rose. Ghostly voices, choral and otherwise, shadows and softness accompany Beauty as she walks into the kingdom which first repels and then entrances her.

I have to agree with the view that the great Greta Garbo took of this movie, though: ‘give me back my Beast'. The transformation from powerful feline seducer to run-of-the-mill Prince is a disappointment. It is during the scenes where Beauty and the Beast play out their fantasy that this film has its most potency.
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Beauty is socialized to choose the right man
villani1 April 2002
Prominent sociologist Bruno Bettleheim believes that the fairy tale has a very important role in the socialization process of children. Each fairy tale addresses a fear they must overcome; Hansel and Gretel addresses the fear of abandonment, Little Red Riding Hood the fear of the `wolf' in the bed sheets, and Beauty and the Beast the similar fear of the `beast' in men that virgin women face on their wedding night. These tales illustrating the effective resolution of possible threats are very important to natural development.

Cocteau's attempt to socialize his female viewers and alleviate their fear of sex is clear through textual analysis. The mirror that Beauty peers into her first night at the castle shows a reflection of her father where her own self-reflection should have been, indicating that she is still very much defined by the dominant male role in her life. Almost immediately after, the bed sheets slide off the bed in a provocative manner, portending future threat, and she runs away repulsed. She confronts the Beast, and promptly faints. This scene establishes her fear and immaturity; however, Beauty and the Beast become progressively closer through the film, holding hands and talking. During her visit to her family, he caresses and wraps himself in her blanket, another reference to his association with her bed. When she decides she has remained at home too long, she lies on her bed and looks at the beast in the mirror's reflection. This is the point of transition, where she links this new dominant male figure to her bed. Instead of being repulsed by his reflection, she lovingly caresses the mirror and returns to him. In order to do this she slips on his glove, perhaps a reference to condoms. His glove is a perfect fit, displaying their perfect compatibility.

The Cocteau version of Beauty and the Beast also addresses the dual nature of masculinity where good and evil coexisted, and the lines of differentiation are increasingly blurred. He emphasizes his statement that man and beast are indistinguishable by casting Jean Marais in both roles. Beauty comments upon this, when she tells the prince that he reminds her of a friend of her brother's. The fine distinction between the two characters is the prince's inner beauty as well as outer. When the brother's friend becomes greedy, he transforms into a beast so his inner ugliness and outer appearance coincide.

Socialization of Beauty remains central despite two forms of masculinity because the two never meet, so Beauty's choice between the two is central. The film is about the distinctions between men, and the importance of picking the right one. Since both the friend and the prince have the same attractive male face, the lesson is to hold out for the true prince who is good and noble on the inside as well as attractive.

As the Beast-turned-prince reclaims himself at the end of Cocteau's film, the message the audience should take away is that love can cure any ugliness and make any beast a man. The interchangeability is evident and the choice important. Beauty loves the Beast, overcoming her fear of the beastly in marriage and claiming she will get used to him, the reality of a man. Beauty makes a gradual transition from love of her father to a husband, as portrayed in her mirrors depicting her core identity.
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For its time, as for today, a unique, emotionally involving adaptation
MisterWhiplash1 September 2003
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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Wondrously imaginative
marissas7525 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Jean Cocteau's film version of "Beauty and the Beast" begins in a world that is decidedly hostile to magic. Belle's sisters are materialistic, selfish, and snobbish; her brother gambles in taverns; her merchant father talks only about the loss of his ships; and her brother's friend Avenant pursues her unromantically. Belle, a young woman of extraordinary outer and inner beauty, is the only magical or transcendent thing in this society. And it's obvious that she is out of place.

Thus, when the scene shifts to the Beast's castle, the magical imagery is made even more haunting by its contrast to the "real world." Words cannot do justice to these fantastical visuals--you must experience them for yourself. Although the special effects were simple even in Cocteau's time, he orchestrates them so well and films them in such smoky, silvery tones that the result is truly magical. The transformation sequences are still beautiful and surprising; the Beast's castle still has its unexplainable mysteries (for instance, I'm fascinated by his garden, which is full of sculptures of dogs).

Jean Marais does a wonderful job in his double role: the first time I saw the movie, I wasn't aware until the very end that Avenant and the Beast were played by the same actor. Despite the heavy makeup he wears as the Beast, he uses his eyes and voice to stir up immense pathos. It also adds to the movie's mystery and psychological complexity to have Marais play both of Belle's suitors.

While Josette Day (who plays Belle) never ascends to Marais' heights of emotion, you never doubt her essential goodness and inner strength. She, too, undergoes a transformation, from a girl afraid to leave her father's side, to a young woman ready to accept romantic love. The actors playing Belle's rascally brother and calculating sisters give lively comic performances.

Unfortunately, the ending of "Beauty and the Beast" is rushed and confused, as Cocteau tries, and fails, to follow two plot lines at once. The emotional climax of the fairy tale is the Beast's almost dying, only to be redeemed at the last minute by Belle's love, but this potentially beautiful moment gets lost in the shuffle. Instead, we are left with the disappointing image of the Beast transformed into a rather sugary Prince.

A note at the beginning of the film urges us to watch it with a child's sense of wonder, not an adult's cynicism. And while it's easy to be cynical about the last few minutes of "Beauty and the Beast," the rest of the film is so wondrous that it renders this note unnecessary.
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Half and Half...
m-young8927 November 2007
After watching this in my college French class, I have mixed feelings. Part of me wants to love it, because of the trippy, fantastical visuals, the fabulous costumes, and the surreal music. The other part of me rebels against the blatant over-acting, the cringe-worthy dialog, and the ridiculously cheesy and unbelievable ending...

To be fair to Cocteau, it's a beautiful film. The visuals and music are far ahead of their time. I'd never seen anything like the scene where la Belle runs through the castle in slow-mo, with the magic arms holding the candelabras guiding her way, and then seemingly floats down the hallway with the curtains billowing to some of the most other-worldly music I've ever heard in a movie score.

The special effects are not horrible for a film of its time. I love the sets, especially the house of la Belle and her family. And the costumes! I thought they were absolutely splendid, and very period-accurate (assuming it was supposed to be set in the 17th century)

Now for the bad... I really don't think a film being old and foreign is any excuse for clunky dialog. It's even worse if you understand French, because the English-speaking viewer might assume that the dialog seems odd thanks to bad translation in the subtitles. But the French dialog is just plain bad. Plus, the acting drives me absolutely crazy. I hate la Bête's voice. Every time he calls her "la Belle", I want to scream. The guy who plays the no-good brother was mildly amusing, and her b*itchy sisters were interesting. I almost wished the film had focused more on them than on the utterly dull Belle et Bête.

Besides all this, the ending was so ridiculous! I read somewhere that Cocteau did this purposely, so that the viewer would be left with a bad taste in their mouth and question the validity of so-called "happily-ever-after" endings. If this was his indeed his intent, he succeeded.

Overall, I think this is a question of style vs. substance. I felt the same way about Sofia Coppolla's Marie Antoinette--which had amazing costumes, music, cinematography and sets, but left me feeling empty and dissatisfied.

However, at least that film isn't called a classic. I understand all the reasons that this film gets recognized, as it is groundbreaking in many ways, but I don't think it deserves to be called a masterpiece.
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A beautiful film by a genius
pontifikator12 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Written and directed by Jean Cocteau in 1947, this is a beautiful film by a genius. Cocteau's lover, Jean Marais, is cast as the beast, the prince, and Avenant, and the lovely Josette Day is Beauty. No one else in the movie matters.

Cocteau hits the story on all points, and Marais is marvelous as the mournful beast who needs only to be loved for what he is. The fairy tale we all know is brought more to life than reality itself with human candelabra, self-lighting candles, and doors that open only to the one who should be admitted. Cocteau's visualization and execution of the fairy tale are brilliant. Working with the primitive equipment in France at the end of World War II, Cocteau's effects work just as well as today's computer-generated imagery. And because his effects are part of the fairy tale, they flow from the story and back into it in a seamless telling of the timeless tale. Nothing detracts from the growth of both Beauty and Beast in their loving respect for each other.

Marais and Day wring our hearts with their separate longings until their desires merge. At the end of course, Beauty loves the beast for who he is, Jean Marais is revealed in all his glory as a prince, and Cocteau has the two rise apparently into heaven.

The cinematographer is Henri Alekan, who was called back into service by Wim Wenders for "Wings of Desire," known in Germany as "Der Himmel uber Berlin." Alekan was brilliant in both films.

Back in 1976, Hallmark Hall of Fame had a TV version of Beauty and the Beast starring George C. Scott and his last wife Trish Van Devere. The major problem in that version is that when Belle loves the Beast he changes into George C. Scott. C'est la vie.
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The Beast Of Man...
newkfl10 November 2009
I really enjoyed this version of Beauty and the Beast. I did not remember seeing this version before, but it was very good. It showed how man could look and act like a beast from the outside, but have a warm and gentle heart within. I really liked the camera work and just the overall scenery. It was great for that time period. The acting was wonderful too and I could really see it when the beast spoke and with his overall mannerisms. I would definitely recommend this movie to other people that I know. I am going to check out other movies by this director and pass them along to other members of my movie family. Beauty and the Beast was a must see for the overall film critic and for the people that would consider themselves to be movie goers. Check it out!!!
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"Once Upon A Time" can't produce insta-magic. This fairytale doesn't fly.
crispy_comments26 September 2006
I'm going to have to agree with the minority here who were underwhelmed by this version of Beauty & The Beast. It seems overrated to me. I found the Disney version far more magical and emotionally engaging. Best I can say about this one is...there were some cool visuals. But that's not enough for me.

Technical achievements can only elicit a detached sort of admiration. The story must have heart, and the execution must be so skillful that (at first) you don't even notice the techniques used to make you believe in the fairytale. I didn't believe in "La Belle et La Bête" or get swept away.

The acting was a little too exaggerated for my liking. The dialogue was awfully clunky. For instance, I'd really rather not hear The Beast come right out and tell Beauty, "I'm good on the inside". Y'know, SHOW, don't tell! Beauty then proceeds to tell him he has courage, but, once again, I'd rather *see* evidence of this. What did The Beast do to give her this opinion of him?

Main problem is the characters lack depth, and the developing relationship between Beauty & The Beast seems really forced. Not once did I believe they were falling in love - perhaps because they never really converse and get to know each other! In the Disney version you can clearly see why Belle's feelings for The Beast his behaviour changes. Whereas the Beast in this film comes across as a sleazy seducer handing Beauty a line!

The transformation scene at the end is abrupt and laughable. Again I must compare it unfavourably to Disney's truly moving, tear-inducing finale. And I'm sorry to say that the actor (playing a dual role) does little to distinguish his mannerisms as the Prince Formerly Known As The Beast, from that of Beauty's other suitor, Avenant. Beauty's reaction at the end seems far too flippant and superficially flirtatious - I saw no depth of feeling on her part.

It's pretty sad when cartoon characters are more expressive and more convincing than real live actors, eh? Actually, what's sad is that animated movies still don't get much respect, while foreign films with fancy pedigrees get an automatic stamp of Critically Acclaimed Masterpiece! - whether they honestly deserve it or not.
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Lovely images
minamurray18 October 2009
I have seen and very much liked Disney's version, which has stunning Gothic imagery - castle within dark and dangerous forest, magical rose - and perfect message - see the inner beauty and purity of heart. Jean Cocteau's artsy 1946 French version is based on the original 18th century story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, timeless tale how purity of heart is more important than looks or intelligence. Writer/director Cocteau tells this great fairytale with ironic touches, black and white photography instead of glorious 1940's Technicolour (unfortunately!) and some lovely visuals of beauty, magic and romantic fantasy - lavish period dresses, white roses, enchanted castles, magic mirrors etc. Despite swinish art crowd arrogance of it's fans - it is black-and-white, so it is art, unlike 1991 version because it was produced by - gasp- Disney! - , this is actually quite good.
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Good, But Not as Magical as Some Claim
evanston_dad29 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I preferred the animated Disney version of this story to the 1946 Jean Cocteau film. I'm no Disney fan, and I would personally like to stop them from taking over the world (along with Starbucks), but this is one case where I just thought they instilled this fairy tale with more magic. I missed the character of Gaston in the Cocteau version, and I missed also the delightful assortment of animated objects. And I think this story is particularly conducive to being set to music, and I enjoyed the songs in the Disney version. However, on its own terms, the 1946 release is well done, and considered by many to be the definitive version of the beauty/beast tale. I thought the acting was bland, though Belle is indeed a beauty. And there are moments of pure movie magic: the candelabras that light Belle's way, the fireplace that watches her father eat. And for once slow motion is used in a way that doesn't feel cliché. But the relationship between Belle and the Beast isn't well developed. You don't see Belle falling in love with him over the course of the film, and when she professes her love at the end, it seems to come out of thin air. And was I the only one confused by the transformation at the end? It doesn't get explained well at all. Though it is kind of funny at how blase Belle is when the Beast becomes a hunk and says she'll have to get used to his new face.

The film is interesting in that it acknowledges the Beast's animalistic nature. He hunts wild game, he craves blood, and more than once you wonder whether or not he'd rather eat Belle than court her. There's a violent eroticism underlying this film, that I found surprising for the year it was released.

I know Cocteau asks his audience at the film's beginning to watch the film with the eyes of a child and to give itself over to the enchantment of fairy tales, and I have no problem doing that. But even so, I felt like he was using fairy tale logic to explain away things that could have been explained better.

Grade: B
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Illogical Swooning
vainoni22 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I know I'm probably going to take some heat for this, but I've watched this movie three times now, very carefully, and I still don't understand what's so wonderful about it. Though this is indeed a version of the "Beauty and the Beast" fairy-tale based on Beaumont's novel, a number of silly subplots muddy things, and character motivations are never explained. I can't even count how many times I rolled my eyes over the course of this movie, because of the gaps in logic and character inconsistencies. If you start thinking about even one of these problems, half a dozen or so will press themselves forward, protesting their relation to it. If you're lucky, they'll all stay trapped in your head. If you're unlucky, they'll escape and start gnawing the furniture.

The title credits contain an injunction to be more "childlike" and open-minded before seeing the movie, since "children believe everything they're told, without question" (not true, but that's a separate point), and this story is (apparently) set in a child-centric world. One thing I retain from my childhood is my dislike of being told what to do and how to think. Any goodwill this movie might have had from me for being financially/technically limited in various ways was just—pfft—gone, after that. It's a cheat, and a lie. Worse, it's an order ("Be enchanted, damn you!").

So, we got off on the wrong foot. That doesn't mean my relationship to this movie couldn't—conceivably—have improved from there. The first scene is promising: Ludovic (Belle's feckless brother) and Avenant (Belle's suitor, precursor to Disney's Gaston) are playing shooting games outside, and very narrowly miss killing one of Belle's evil stepsisters. Belle's father, a merchant, is half-ruined and deeply in debt; his son Ludovic is a "wastrel" who digs them even further into a hole, and the two spoiled sisters care only about wealth and social standing. Belle is cast as a Cinderella figure, "forced" to work because of her father's reduced circumstances. (I prefer the traditional character's *willingness* to help, since it is so in keeping with the story…but I digress.) Avenant, her feckless suitor, offers to take her away from it all and grabs her (why? To carry her off?) when she says no. Ludovic breaks things up.

Belle's father finds out that one of his ships has docked, and goes to see if he can fetch the goods before they get impounded by his creditors. On his way back, he gets lost and stops at a castle that seems to be uninhabited except for disembodied hands that live in the walls and furniture. (For the record: If I ever entered that house and was forced to stay there, I would find a place in the center of the largest room where the hands couldn't reach me, and stay there until I died; that's how repulsed and freaked out I'd be.)

His initial confrontation with the Beast is so ludicrous that I actually wept with laughter. Not only does the Beast give him fifteen minutes to prepare for death(!), not only does the Beast look ludicrous (not just for 1946; I don't care if Marais spent 5 hours in makeup a day), and not only does the Beast have the voice of a woman who's smoked for 30+ years—to top it off, he's trussed up fancier than the vainest royal personage you'll ever see. What happened to the "Beast" part of this story? We don't find out until later that the Beast became the Beast because his parents "didn't believe in fairies/magic"—which is, incidentally, the dumbest reason for becoming a Beast in any version of the legend—it's even worse than the original story's reason. In it, a fairy turned him into a hideous beast after he refused to let her in from the rain.

Later on, he also apologizes "for being a Beast." Why? Even if he's lying and he actually became a Beast because he broke into the Temple of Diana--why? For eating a deer? He's a "Beast.* We shouldn't apologize for who/what we are. If you aren't satisfied with yourself, don't ply me (or Belle, as the case is) with explanations and excuses and pleas for forgiveness. Change yourself, like the rest of us do, and stop griping.

Another strange thing is that even though Belle repulsed Avenant at the beginning—and even though he physically abused her—she still tells the Beast-turned-Prince that she was in love with him. What? *scratches head*

Acting is cartoonish and uninspired, as is the script. There is excessive politeness everywhere (not translated in the subtitles, but my French suffices to pick it up), even between the father and the usurer! I don't know if it's a French thing to be totally polite, constantly, to all one's countrymen, but I really rather doubt it. Dialogue in general is simple at best and clichéd at worst. I realize that we weren't very far from the age of silent movies in 1946, but geez—1952's "Pysna Princezna" was acted (and written) worlds better than this, and "Pysna" is another fairy-movie with some subversive themes, even though it was aimed at children.

People praise the visual style of "La Belle et la Bete" and forget that the movie makes no sense. What's wrong with people? Or with me? I wanted to like and/or understand this movie, but I don't think I ever will, though I've read scads of rave reviews. I don't mean to be harsh, or hate-spewing for the sake of it, but when I sought out helpful negative reviews of this movie (to compare with the hundreds of positive ones), there were very few to be found. So my purpose is twofold: to write that negative review, and to (hopefully) find out what I'm missing.

Slick cinematography (Alekan would go on to do one of my favorite movies, "Der Himmel über Berlin") and a haunting score by Georges Auric can't save this travesty of storytelling.
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Jean Cocteau's Romantic Fairy-Tale
Eumenides_012 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In 1946 Jean Cocteau released his film adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. It's a well known story, countless movies and cartoons have popularised it. A humble girl, Belle, asks her father to bring her a rose from his travels. The father unknowingly plucks one from the Beast's garden and in order to make amends sends his daughter to live with the creature; love blossoms and, after several setbacks, they live happily ever after – this is after all a fairy-tale. Cocteau stays quite close to the original story.

Cocteau didn't have a prolific career as a filmmaker. His previous movie had been the 1930 avant-garde short movie The Blood of a Poet. His lack of practice at making movies only makes the accomplishments of Beauty and the Beast more impressive – he shows such a natural talent for cinema, such a command of its language and understanding of its visual possibilities, that no one would ever imagine this was his first feature-length movie.

The movie's best asset is Cocteau's imagination. In the magical world he creates for this movie, he juxtaposes the ordinary with the wondrous – so household objects have voices and talk to Belle, arm-shaped candelabra emerge from the walls to illuminate a passerby, and statues (a special mention must go to the make-up in this movie) move their eyes about silently. Cocteau moved within the surrealist circles and knew many of artists, and their influence on him can be seen here clearly.

Two other members of the crew contribute to make this movie unforgettable: first of all, Henri Alekan, the cinematographer (perhaps better known for his work in Wim Wender's Wings of Desire), who emulates the style of two classic painters – Jan Vermeer and Gustave Doré – to better portray the contrast between the beautiful outside world and the eerie, mysterious interior of the Beast's castle.

And to accompany the beautiful visuals Georges Auric composed a melancholy, tragic score that suits the tortured love relationship between Belle and the Beast and enhances the movie's dreamy atmosphere.

Josette Day plays Belle with the humility and compassion that defines her simple, altruistic existence, and she would certainly have given the best performance in the movie were it not for Jean Marais. A favourite of Cocteau, he plays two roles in the movie: the Beast and Avenant, a scoundrel in love with Belle. He's excellent in both roles, ironically playing a despicable, greedy human and a tragic, kind-hearted monster. Although he makes Avenant effortlessly unlikeable, it's amazing how much depth he brings to the Beast. With the help of a make-up suit ahead of its time, he just disappears in the role and becomes a creature torn between bestial instincts and a struggle to retain humanity.

Half dream, half fantasy, a complete love story from start to finish, Beauty and the Beast will just leave any viewer enchanted with Cocteau's vision of a world where love unapologetically triumphs over everything, just like in our childhood's fairy-tales.
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A True Classic
Flak_Magnet10 September 2009
This movie is a legitimate classic, and the DVD contains an lofty array of bonus content. If you have any interest in classic fantasies or French cinema, this movie is highly recommended. This was one of the first films selected for the Criterion Collection, and you will understand why about 20-min in. As a work of pure fantasy, "Beauty & the Beast" is one of the true greats. Jean Cocteau (director) was, (despite his hesitancy to claim so), one of the early surrealists, and his cinematic style lends perfection to the world of fairy tales. This is a very carefully crafted movie, and it feels similar to American studio classics from the 1940's (e.g. clean B&W photography, attractive cast, high budget, etc.). However, Cocteau was very much an artist, and he took risks with his projects. The result is fairly unique, and Cocteau's style would later be characterized, perhaps paradoxically, as "classical avant-gard." The story is one we've all heard, but Cocteau brings a terrific flair that makes the film consistently interesting. Similarly, the characters are each also interesting, and the performances are great. At the hands of lesser talent, this project could have been laughable. Cocteau and the cast took big risks, and the payoff was a timeless classic. This is a beautiful rendition of a beautiful story. ---|--- Reviews by Flak Magnet
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Subversive "Beauty" toys with our expectations
rjyelverton25 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Beauty and the Beast" is a fascinating adaptation of the Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale that tweaks the story's usual theme of love beyond appearance. In director Jean Cocteau's sumptuous fantasy, the Beast's appearance remains a constant hindrance to love throughout the story and Belle has difficulty looking beyond it. Disney's version, the most familiar to this viewer, finds Belle learning to love the beast for his character and eventually growing to love his unique, but not too beastly, appearance. Cocteau has something else in mind and uses the fairy tale to examine traditional notions of beauty and love. Belle is not quite the heroine we expected and the Beast is not rewarded in the manner we assume.

Cocteau explains his intentions in this letter to American viewers: "To fairyland as people usually see it, I would bring a kind of realism to banish the vague and misty nonsense now so completely outworn. My story would concern itself mainly with the unconscious obstinacy with which women pursue the same type of man, and expose the naiveté of the old fairy tales that would have us believe that this type reaches its ideal in conventional good looks. My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: "And they had many children." I was therefore obliged to deceive both the public and Beauty herself. Slyly, and with much effort, I persuaded my cameraman Alekan to shoot Jean Marais, as the Prince in as saccharine a style as possible. The trick worked. When the picture was released, letters poured in from matrons, teen-age girls and children, complaining to me and Marais about the transformation. They mourned the disappearance of the Beast—the same Beast who terrified them so at the time when Madame Leprince de Beaumont wrote the tale." So in "Beauty and the Beast," Cocteau is trying to be subversive and unpack traditional notions of beauty. Belle, more inwardly and outwardly beautiful than her wicked sisters--see Goneril and Regan--still is none too saintly as to rise above an enslavement to the desire for the traditional prize catch. Given that fairy tales are about the attractive ensnaring the attractive--beauty is the result of good character and vice versa--Cocteau's conclusion is likely to appear odd and unsatisfying after the first viewing. When Belle gets her handsome prince we are ill at ease and unsatisfied. I found it off-putting, but after reading Cocteau's letter, reprinted in part above, I am fascinated. He was being a provocateur trying to destabilize the ideological underpinnings of the fairy tale and, necessarily, our own facile desires. The seeming purity of fairy tales is a sham and props up a superficial beauty ethic.

Yet "Beauty" succeeds as a traditional fairy tale until its closing moments. Belle is far kinder than her sisters and chooses to put herself at the mercy of the Beast when her sisters refuse out of vain self interest. She is pursued by a strapping traditional hero type unworthy of her attention and greedy. Her quest finds her remaining in the beast's home, but more out of a desire to honor her father and out of respect and admiration, but not love, of the Beast. That this love never really materializes is confounding given our familiarity with the story. Cocteau is playing a devilish game.

When ever anyone enters the Beast's estate, the straightforward sunny film becomes dark and dream-like. Time slows down and characters float across the screen. Candelabras are represented by human arms poking through walls clutching candlesticks. (An obvious inspiration to Lumiere, Ms. Potts, and crew.) The Beast costume is convincing and surprising given my expectation of 1946 special effects. The film, whether the viewer appreciates its rhetorical aims, is too beautiful to miss.

And what do we make of the ending? Belle finally gets her handsome prince, but not as we expected. When the Beast changes it does not feel triumphant, but tragic. The Beast proves to be the film's most noble character and Belle a tragic figure for seeking out someone more palatable. Cocteau closes his film with a triumphant ascension to the heavens, but we feel loss and disappointment.

Is Cocteau successful in deconstructing our beauty ethic? It's hard to say yes when he's so clearly manipulating the audience, but it is a deft manipulation and done in a medium that honors beauty as a virtue. In the end it's a beautiful experiment that needs to be experienced and unpacked. Don't miss it.
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