Beauty and the Beast
- 1h 31min
In this gothic rendition of the classic fairy tale, a merchant's youngest daughter is held prisoner by a mysterious winged beast.In this gothic rendition of the classic fairy tale, a merchant's youngest daughter is held prisoner by a mysterious winged beast.In this gothic rendition of the classic fairy tale, a merchant's youngest daughter is held prisoner by a mysterious winged beast.
As you watch it, it may strike you as both obvious and muddled, obvious because its fantasy is of the schematic sort, with onedimensional characters like the 'kindly father', 'innocent maiden', 'petty step- sisters'. The monster looks silly. So it may seem like it's not worth the effort of bridging the distance to what is going on behind the simplistic surface.
However, scrap all that and this may get to you. It got to me, at least for a while. It isn't about just the Gothic mood. Its appeal is a series of interleavened dreams, but you aren't always sure who is dreaming, if sometimes more than one dreamer, and when one bleeds into the next, so you drift with it.
Consider this as the story. A rich merchant father has to marry off his daughter in a marriage of convenience, the anxiety this causes to both is at the root of the film. It isn't in the film as such, but you will get something of the sort if you conflate the different threads.
From the father's perspective, this means sending off his daughter to live with a 'monster' in his dark lair, from her perspective, it means going to live alone with a stranger, her fate sealed. This translates in several scenes of hallucination, all of it wonderfully visual—the ominous destruction of the merchant wares in the woods, the father's deal with the monster for the girl, the girl's gilded dream of a handsome prince (inside a coffin) and half-frightful, half-anticipatory wandering in the mansion hearing just his voice.
The plucking of roses as loss of purity is a central motif.
It's silly again as we shift to the monster's soliloquies of what it means to be human, but that is because we don't have a surrogate for him in the level of reality, he solely exists inside the fantasy as the abstract ogre made human by her touch. The Czech often favor a juvenile theatricality.
But there's something else that is cool. Now so far all points to constructed realities, dreams as tailored emotional space. The girl wonders if she's not imagining everything, in one scene she visits as ghostly observer her sisters' wedding, no one can see her.
Here's how the filmmaker adds layers to the monster. He has conflicting sides to him, two voices that ponder on whether to kill or spare the girl. The 'evil' voice is disembodied, in his mind. This 'evil' narrator is coming from the camera, you'll notice this is linked with subjective shots of the monster as it kills the wench in the woods, roams with a candelabra and early on 'stages' the frightful visit of the father. It's the filmmaker's hand (as internal consciousness shaping the story) pushing for horror, very cool to see.
So as with many films of this sort, the film becomes more disposable the more you settle on what the story is supposed to be. It fits somewhere between Lynch, Hourglass Sanatorium for nested doll-worlds, Jean Rollin's wandering and Valerie's Week of Wonders.
I listed the films (and makers) in descending order of preference, which for me is the order by which, as you peel away layers, you get less and less of what you thought is there, it opens up, instead of a single solid core. Angels dancing instead of a pin's head.
So if you want a cryptic story disguised to mean something, this is cryptic but as with Rollin and Valerie it makes rather simple sense. At the same time, it is dissonant enough once you disengage from story to captivate. I will see if I can track down more from this guy, he may deserve a place in my nightly viewings.
- Mar 13, 2013