Wednesday, 5 October 2011

La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Fig. 1
La Belle et la Bête is a romantic fantasy film written and directed by French director and poet, Jean Cocteau. It tells the story of a young woman, named Belle, who takes her father's place when he's sentenced to death after stealing a rose from the Beast's garden. Whilst living in the enchanted castle, Belle finds herself the object of the Beast's affections with nightly proposals of marriage. In true fairytale style time passes and Belle finds herself in love with the Beast just before he magically transforms into a handsome Prince. Its theatrical style makes the story instantly recognisable, even though the film is in French, the audience doesn't have to read the subtitles to know what's being portrayed on screen.        
Fig. 2
The film has been highly praised by many a critic for its cinematography, particularly the scene we see Belle running through the castle in slow motion. The beauty and simplicity of the theatrical footage is engaging to the audience. The clever and inventive representation of the castle is presented through the different settings; Belle's bedroom appearing as if part of the garden, with roses being a prominent feature, as well as the hall being light by arms holding candle sticks. Matt Langdon suggests, "Cocteau was attempting to approximate the spirit of the tale by conjuring cinematic tricks. But he wasn't interested in special effects that you add in the editing room. He wanted to use tricks that could be caught on camera through superimposition, slow motion, and running the film backwards for dreamlike effect. He also -- with the great production help of Christian Bérard, costume design by Marcel Escoffier, and set design by Rene Moulaert -- created an amazing set, which included candle chandeliers held by arms that protrude from the walls and fireplaces with living face statues that have eyes that follow the occupants around." (Langdon 2003). Langdon believes that the film is enhanced with these cinematic tricks and the theme of the film being a fairytale is reflected in these enchanted ways. 

The obvious theme starring its audience in the face is not to judge a book by its cover. This is reflected when Belle's affection towards the Beast changes from being repelled by his ugliness to letting him drink water from her hands after speaking and spending time with the Beast, understanding his character. Cocteau is possibly trying to make a point about himself through the Beast, either about his sexuality or his skin problems, don't judge by these outer labels. John Nesbit argues, "Many draw psychological interpretations of the film, partially based on Cocteau’s sexuality or on the fact that Cocteau was beginning to have skin problems (the filmmaker could represent the ugly beast in search of love)." (Nesbit 2001) Nesbit highlights Cocteau's possible personal influences.

Fig. 3
The metamorphosis within the film differs from others, as the transformation is usually from man to beast, yet in this film the change is from beast to man.

The film theatrical style is reflected through costume and setting, pantomime like, yet has a beauty reflected within it. The way certain scenes are created and portrayed its easy to see how Disney has used this as their inspiration for Beauty and the Beast (1991). "Studied or not for philosophy, this is a sensuously fascinating film, a fanciful poem in movement given full articulation on the screen." (Crowther 1947) Bosley Crowther believes the film is poetry in motion.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Cocteau, Jean (1946) La Belle et la Bête Film Poster. At: (Accessed on: 5/10/11)

Figure 2. Cocteau, Jean (1946) Slow motion sequence with Belle At: (Accessed on: 5/10/11)

Figure 3. Cocteau, Jean (1946) Belle and the Beast At:   (Accessed on: 5/10/11)


Matt Langdon (2003) Beauty and the Beast. At: (Accessed on: 5/10/11)

John Nesbit (2001) Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête). At: (Accessed on: 5/10/11)

New York Times Review Bosley Crowther (1947) La Belle et la Bete. At: Tomatoes (Accessed on:5/10/11)

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