Beauty and the Beast

This is not the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, but a film by Jean Cocteau made in 1946 in France. It's black and white, with stunning practical effects and costumes, and was pretty incredible. I loved the atmosphere of this film - it was eerie and haunting, It seemed so magical and enchanting, and it felt like I was looking into a new world. It seemed to be more convincing as a fantasy, for some reason, than the animated version I saw as a kid. I think there was something about the huge, rich sets and the costumes that made it seem more fantastical and mystical.




The set is huge, and Ebert writes that the beast's castle is "...one of the strangest ever put on film--Xanadu crossed with Dali" (The Great Movies, 53). The fireplaces are huge, there is lots of blank wall space punctuated by living candelabras and ornate statues that watch Belle as she moves around the room. Wine is poured by a mysterious hand that comes out of the table. It's sort of sinister but sort of enchanting as well, a disturbing kind of magic. It gave the film a really strange atmosphere and made the story more engrossing than it otherwise is.

The costume and makeup that the Beast wears is pretty stunning. I felt stupid, but I really had a hard time trying to figure out how it was done. The actor seemed to be able to articulate his face perfectly under all of fur and things he was wearing, but it looked like a mask. It was really cool and a lot less scary looking than the Beast in the Disney movie. This beast looked more human, I guess, so it was easier to see why Belle fell in love with him. It was sort of funny - at the end of the film, Belle was disappointed that the Beast had turned into a man. I sort of felt the same way.

In his essay, Ebert writes that Jean Cocteau "did not consider himself primarily a filmmaker but a poet; he also painted, sculpted, wrote novels and plays, and stirred the currents of the Paris art scene" (The Great Movies, 56). He also writes that you can feel that this film is "a poetic film made by an artist" (The Great Movies, 56). I'm glad Ebert wrote about the director, since learning about him did give me more insight to the film. The movie is so visually stunning and creative, it's easy to accept that Cocteau was also a painter and a poet. It seemed like a film made by someone who didn't care so much about the rules and conventions of movies, but about making a sort of living painting, something with a simple story that is visually stunning. Easy to understand, so you have time to focus on the images.

There are a lot of interesting and disturbing things that he brings out, visually, in this story. He makes it so much more than just a fairytale and, through images alone, drew my attention to some of the more mature and eerie concepts in the story. I'm not a fan of the story, but I really liked this movie. I think it's worth checking this out, just because it is so beautiful to look at. The images are haunting and gorgeous, and I hope that you try to watch it, no matter how you feel about the story or the Disney movie. This is a pretty unique and incredible film, and it's streaming on Netflix right now, and for sure, worth 90 minutes of your time. :)

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay
Criterion Trailer

Belle du Jour

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