Thursday, 30 September 2010

La Belle et la bête aka, Beauty and the Beast (1946)

This movie is adapted from the famous fairytale by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Most people like me mainly associate The Beauty and the Beast with the 1991 animated Walt Disney version directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, so I was curious to see this version.
Crossing the forest one night a recently ruined merchant comes across a huge creepy castle and takes refuge there. When leaving he steels a flower from a rose bush for his daughter Belle. The beast who resides at the castle catches him and gives him two choices, his life or the life of one of his daughters. Belle, feeling responsible decides to sacrifice herself to the beast. When Belle arrives at the castle she discovers that the beast doesn’t want to kill her, he wants to marry her. He will not force her but will ask every day until she says yes. At first she vows to never say yes, but over time she begins to see through the beast’s grotesque exterior into his kind sole.

This movie is very surreal and dreamlike in tone and the visuals are fantastic. My favourite parts are the sequences inside the beast’s castle with the creepy candlestick arms and the statues that move and stare coldly. One scene that is especially striking is when we see Belle almost gliding through the halls of the castle. The film reminded me of German expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922). Those films seem to use lighting, shadow and strange sets in a similar way. Mark Born from the sums up the movie pretty well by saying Cocteau dazzles us with such dreamlike imagery, painterly compositions, and (some say) potent sexual subtleties that Beauty and the Beast achieves a fusion of cinema artistry rarely duplicated since.”

A downside to this movie I can think of is the fact that the story is over familiar. This obviously isn’t the fault of the movie makers but it did slow it down for me. I always found the ending to this story a bit shallow anyway. The beauty can only love the beast once he completely changes and turns hansom, what kind of moral is that? Wouldn’t it be more interesting if he still looked like a beast but she loved him anyway? Thankfully the movie Shrek fixed this story in 2001.

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