Friday, April 10, 2015

La Belle et la Bete

Based on the fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, La Belle et la Bete (Beauty & the Beast) is the story of a woman who falls for a man who is cursed as a beast as she maybe the key to make him become human again. Written for the screen and directed by Jean Cocteau, the film is a different interpretation of the story as it plays into the idea of fantasy and romance. Starring Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parely, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, and Marcel Andre. La Belle et la Bete is a ravishing and exhilarating film from Jean Cocteau.

When a man takes a rose from the garden of a mysterious castle for his daughter, he gets in trouble with a mysterious beast until the man’s daughter asks to stay with the beast to spare her father. That is pretty much the premise of the film as it explores a woman who would find the humanity within this beast as she worries for her ailing father who is overcome with guilt over what happened. Especially as he was supposed to gain a fortune from a cargo that was to end his family’s years of unpaid debts but things go wrong where Belle (Josette Marais) would take her father’s place as prisoner for the Beast (Jean Marais). Yet, her stay at his home would reveal sides of him that are quite human as she becomes fond of him though she was recently asked to marry someone else.

Jean Cocteau’s screenplay doesn’t try to make something that is very faithful but add elements of fantasy and mysticism into the film as it relates to Belle’s time with the Beast. A moment where she is treated fairly while helping the Beast which showcases how generous and graceful she is. Especially as she lives in a family where she is loved by her father (Marcel Andre) but is treated poorly by her spoiled sisters Felicie (Mila Parely) and Adelaide (Nane Germon). She is also being wooed by a friend of her brother Ludovic (Michel Auclair) in the form of Avenant (Jean Marais) who is eager to marry her. All of which plays into a third act where Belle does return to look after her ailing father on the promise that she will return to the Beast as Avenant, Ludovic, and his sisters conspire to kill the Beast and attain his riches unaware of what he really possesses.

Cocteau’s direction is truly mesmerizing not just in the images that he creates but also in this strange blend of fantasy and mysticism. The scenes in the Beast’s palace features live arms carrying candelabras and faces on fireplace that moves and breathe smoke as it adds to this element of strange fantasy that Cocteau would create in the film. It is a world that is very appealing in comparison to the more dreary world that Belle was in due to the cruelty she receives from her sisters. Cocteau’s direction includes some compositions that are quite intoxicating to watch with his approach to close-ups to capture some of the anguish in the Beast which displays elements of his humanity and his struggle retain those elements.

The elements of mysticism comes into the film’s third act as it relates to a secret pavilion that is in the Beast’s estate but no one has entered it including himself as he’s only seen what it’s in it from above. It plays into the film’s climax where Cocteau does use some unique camera angles to capture some of the action as well as the drama involving Belle and the Beast. Cocteau’s usage of medium shots to capture some of the planning are quite fascinating as it shows who is exactly calling the shots while there are moments where elements of uncertainty into whether anyone is doing the right thing. Its climax also has elements of romance and fantasy where it plays into what Belle wants and how she wants to help the Beast in proving that he has everything to offer to her. Overall, Cocteau creates an imaginative yet captivating film about a woman who falls for a Beast.

Cinematographer Henri Alekan does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography with its exquisite usage of shadows and lighting schemes along with moods to play into the sense of fantasy and mysticism as it‘s a major highlight of the film. Editor Claude Iberia does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish usage of rewinds, slow-motions, dissolves, and other stylish cuts to play into the sense of magic that occurs throughout the film. Art directors Rene Clement and Lucien Carre do fantastic work with the look of the Beast‘s home as well as hallway and other rooms that are magical. Costume designer Marcel Escoffier does excellent work with the costumes from the clothes that the Beast wears to the lavish gowns that Belle wears during her time with the Beast.

The makeup work of Hagop Arakelian is incredible for not just the look of some of the mysterious things in the Beast‘s home but also in the look of the Beast itself. The sound work of Jacques Lebreton and Jacques Carrere is superb for some of the sound effects that occur including some of the sound that plays into some of the mystical elements of the film. The film’s music by Georges Auric is phenomenal for its orchestral score that is filled with lush and bombastic arrangements that play into the drama as well as a few suspenseful moments as it’s another of the film’s major highlights.

The film’s marvelous cast includes a notable small role from Raoul Marco as an usurer who is making sure Belle’s father pays his debt while Michel Auclair is terrific as Belle’s brother Ludovic who would get his family into more trouble by signing a contract as he is also goaded by Avenant into killing the Beast. Mila Parely and Nane Germon are excellent in their respective roles as Felicie and Adelaide as Belle’s cruel and spoiled sisters who treat her like crap as they make her wash their clothes and such. Marcel Andre is brilliant as Belle’s father as a man whose simple act of doing something for his daughter would get him in trouble as he becomes consumed with guilt over what he put his family through.

Josette Day is amazing as Belle as a woman who takes her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner as she would convey a sense of patience and grace that makes her truly a woman of great beauty and character. Finally, there’s Jean Marais in an incredible performance as the Beast and as Avenant where he displays an air of smugness into the latter which makes him unappealing while displaying a sense of anguish and pure emotion into the former as it is truly a mesmerizing performance for the actor.

La Belle et la Bete is an astonishingly rich and enchanting film from Jean Cocteau. Armed with a great cast and some amazing technical achievements, the film is truly one of a kind in terms of creating something that is pure fantasy with elements of reality that is engaging to watch. Especially as it’s an interpretation of the fairy tale where it maintains something that is accessible for audiences of all ages but also with something to make it standout from other interpretations. In the end, La Belle et la Bete is an outstanding film from Jean Cocteau.

Jean Cocteau Films: (Blood of a Poet) - (L’Aigle a deux tetes) - (Les Parents terribles) - (Orpheus) - (La Villa Santo-Sospir) - (Testament of Orpheus)

© thevoid99 2015


Dell said...

This has been on my to watch list for a long time. I gotta get on the ball.

Ruth said...

I just read a review of this recently, now I'm even more intrigued to finally check this one out!

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-See it. It's one of the finest interpretations of that story.

@ruth-It's a film that every film buff has to see and I'm glad that I finally saw it. Now it's off to see Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy.

Luke said...

One of the most beautiful looking films ever made. I love Orpheus too and am looking forward to your thoughts on it.

thevoid99 said...

@Luke-Thanks. I was going to do Orpheus by itself but now I decide to do the trilogy later this summer.