Monday, 19 December 2016

La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Fig 1: Poster
Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête (1946) is a romance, fantasy and drama film which was based on a 1756 fairy tale from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. The film tells the story of  a beautiful young woman Belle and a cursed Prince who turned into the beast. Belle's father is a failed merchant with a son and three daughters (including Belle). Belle is treated by her two sisters who are selfish and is courted by  Avenant who is a handsome young man with a superficial personality. Belle's loving father loses his way in the forest and when cutting down a rose for Belle, he is threatened to be killed by the Beast. Belle sacrifices herself to save her father and is to live with the Beast in his castle. As time passes she grows fond of the kindhearted Beast and when her father falls ill, she is let go by the Beast to visit him but she had to promise to return. Upon discovering the potential wealth of the Beast the greedy of her sisters and Avenant plan on getting their hands on the gold. Belle returns to the dying Beast in rush, meanwhile Avenant and Belle's brother go to the castle, where Avenant is killed when he enters the forbidden treasure cabin. Avenant turns into the Beast, while the Beast takes Avenant's human form and turns into Prince Charming. Belle is disappointed by the new look of the beast, but says she will eventually get used to his new appearance and later get married.
The overall meaning of the film is to see beauty inside and not only look at what's outside. As it is claimed by Belle she has found Avenant handsome, but did not accept his proposal for marriage, while the Beast was ugly, but she grew to love him, because he was kind and towards the end of the film, she was ready to accept the Beast's proposal for marriage. "One interesting aspect of the original; the Beast is not merely ugly but simple minded, proving kindness in a husband is more important than being either handsome OR clever." (Boyes, 2007)
Fig 2: Belle looking fondly at the Beast
Fig 3: The Beast
"The magic is sexual throughout—a fantastic, but not in the least morbid or phantasmal, sex magic." (O'Brien, 2011) While the fairy tale like story and the amazing visuals might distract the viewer there are many hidden suggestions and meanings throughout the film. It seems that the Beast is constantly struggling and is caught between his 'beastly' nature and his emotional connection to Belle. His frustration can be seem whenever Belle coldly sends him away. The most noticeable struggle he had  is at the beginning of the film when he carries the unconscious and helpless beauty to he bed and feels tempted only to stop himself in track when Belle awakes and he rushes out of the room constantly telling her not to look into his eyes.
Fig 4: The Beast watches the unconscious Belle
The artist who collaborated in designing the set, making it theatrical and the dresses was Christian Bérard, whose illustrations got the director's attention and has influenced the overall appearance of the film. In Bérard's fashion illustrations chalk outlines often appeared, which was adapted throughout the movie, as the film is black-and-white with quite high contrast. this effect creates a a similar appearance as the chalk on dark background. The director claims that it is saddening that the film was shot in black-and-white, as for example some of the dresses and colours would have looked breath-taking on screen. "In evoking the magical qualities of the castle, Cocteau has made surprisingly little use of the film's trick shot potentialities which form so crucial a part of so many of his other works. Here the living faces of the statuary and the disembodied human arms that act as Beast's servants are essentially theatrical devices." (Armes, s.d) The castle is one of the main environments where the story takes place, and it is filled with magic. Despite different objects and statues, the director applies other magical aspects, such as at the beginning, when Belle walks through the corridors it appears as she is rather floating than walking, or the magic mirror and gloves that appear numerous ties during the film. The statues all around the castle are moving, just as a real person would and the candle holders are simply hand. The lighting plays an important part in setting the atmosphere and mood. when the shots are inside the castle, the room is often only lighten by a small source of light and is usually dark. Everything on the set including the environment, lighting, shadows and costumes is very theatrical instead of a usual film, which gives the whole movie a different image and makes it appear magically different.
Fig 5: Christian Bérard's illustration for the film
Fig 6: Corridor with hand candle holders
The characters are not necessary very likeable as their personalities are hardly communicated and only sometimes are shown. Majority of the characters play negative roles and there is not much change during the story. The two main characters Belle and the Beast are the only characters that seem to have any positive connection with the audience (despite Belle's father seems to be an emphatic character too) and their characters develop through the story. Beast changes the most, not only physically but emotionally. He changes from a murderous monster to a kind and loving man, which makes the audience quite disappointed to see him changing into the prince (as well as it did Belle.) "My goal was to make the Beast so human, so likeable, so superior to man that his transformation into Prince Charming would be for Belle, a terrible disappointment, and would oblige her to accept a marriage of reason." (Cocteau, s.d)
Fig 7: Belle's disappointment at the transformed Beast


Illustration List:

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