Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast(https://www.facebook.com/Wolffianclassicmoviesdigest/

Out of the extravagant variety of Jean Cocteau’s work the paintings and drawings, the poems, the plays and novels and memoirs, the opera librettos and ballet scenarios—it is likely his films that will have the most enduring influence, and among those, Beauty and the Beast (1946) will have the most pervasive effect. Few films brim with the kind of cinematic magic as Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête. For its entire 93 minutes, Cocteau implores us to view the proceedings with childlike wonder and suspension of disbelief. His call to order in the prologue asks us to indeed suspend our disbelief form the start of the movie.

a debt-ridden man (Marcel Andre) accidentally stumbles into the lair of the Beast (Jean Marais), a fearsome-looking and seemingly ill-tempered nobleman. The man then steals a rose from the Beast’s garden as a gift for his beloved daughter Belle (Josette Day). At first, the incensed Beast threatens to kill him for those actions. But he relents, saying that he will spare the man if one of his children will take his place as none them but belle stays with him.

The film’s costumes and set designs were inspired by the illustrations and engravings of Gustave Doré (shown above), and the farmhouse scenes are an obvious nod to the paintings of Jan Vermeer. This sumptuous artwork is the perfect muse for Cocteau’s re-imagined fairy tale.

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Cocteau and his cinematographer Henri Alekan (who later shot Wings of Desire and Roman Holiday) use reverse and slow-motion shots, mirrors, and other camera tricks to striking effects to capture many of the scenes of the movie. Cocteau’s decision to keep the camera as still as possible was against the prevailing fashion of the time, and according to Cocteau’s diary, the source of some friction with Alekan. Cocteau had this to say in the press booklet that accompanied the film when it was released in America.

French actress Josette Day is perfectly cast as one of literature’s great heroines that really feels like the book’s belle come to life on screen. Belle’s character, played with sweetness and light by Josette Day, is aided immeasurably by the costumes of Christian Bérard. The costumes are somehow of their time and outside of it, both practical and fantastical that makes belle come to life upon the screen.

Like many films made during the early days of cinema, there is a charming quality considering the innovative efforts used to bring this fantasy tale to life upon the screen. . Actress Josette Day stars as Belle, and beloved French actor Jean Marais portrays the Beast. Marias spent five hours in make-up every morning to transform into the tragic character, and special fangs were made and adhered to his teeth transformed him into the Beast each day on set. 

Jean Marais who plays three characters  the foolishly obnoxious rapscallion Avenant whom Beauty loves, the self-pitying but elegant-looking Beast as the three characters he plays are all wonderfully acted by him. Cocteau’s conception of the Beast is a little more canine in appearance and behavior than subsequent versions like the animated film as he simply is quite more like the original version in the book. He is simply a book to screen perfect version of the beast.

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Bête slightly differs in comparison to Disney’s adaptations. Most notable is the inclusion of Belle’s sisters and brother, which closely resembles de Villeneuve’s original tale in contrast to Disney’s version which does not feel closer to the book. The metaphoric story is full of visually magical moments, which was new territory in film at the time of its release. Overall it was the cast and crew’s labor of love to create something unique that brought this tale to life. Cocteau’s focus on creating a visual poem gave the film a classical presentation. This is where the advance storytelling of early French cinema is best represented. There is a more romanticized element to Bête compared to its later adapted counterparts that told the tale. Beauty and the Beast (1946) will have the most pervasive effect. Few films brim with the kind of cinematic magic as Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête shows upon the screen.

Image result for beauty and the beast 1946

The ending was more ambiguous than I had remembered.The Beast’s curse is lifted yes, and he turns into a beautiful Prince.  Belle hesitates to go away with him – she was looking for an escape but might be going in circles. But, with no other options, she flies into his arms and up into the sky to live as husband and wife, future king and queen  but perhaps not happily ever after as we would love to think about in the Disney classic film. Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast is more than just a fairy tale but a beautiful enchanting story on how beauty can be in the eye of the beholder. He wanted to make a poem, wanted to express what he felt through images rather than words, and even though the story takes the form of the familiar fable to translate to screen a magical tale that has such wonderful charm and magic to watch upon the screen any time.

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