Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Film Review: La Belle et La Bête (1946)

Fig 1: Poster

La Belle et La Bête is a 1946 french romantic fantasy film directed by Jean Cocteau. It is an adaptation to the traditional fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, which tells the story of a young girl, Beauty, who is bullied by her older sisters and refused a proposal from Avenant for her father’s sake, runs to a castle of the Beast to take her father’s place after he is sentenced to death by the Beast for plucking a rose from his garden. The Beast falls in love with Beauty and proposes to her nightly, which she refuses. After overstaying her trip home due to interference from her sisters and Avenant, she rushes back to the castle to see a dying Beast. As Avenant tries to steal the Beast’s riches he is shot by Goddess Diana’s arrow and turns into a beast, moments after the Beast is revived back into human form, and flies Belle off to his kingdom where she will live with her family.

Fig 2: Film Still. Body part decor.
Jean Cocteau used the genre of the film to influence the set design, and the fairy-tale castle of the Beast becomes the most prominent aspect in the film. Throughout the film all of the special effects were created through physical props and camera trickery, such as dark corridors lit up by candles which are held up by moving arms along the walls, and table center pieces which pour out drinks, and heads decorating a fireplace with ever watching eyes. This use of actors’ body parts to play as the effects in the film doubles as an effective fantasy effect for the film, and also as en effective method of working on low budgets for the film, especially as the film business was suffering due to the War’s effect on money and the priority over for families to survive than for entertainment. As Roger Ebert states “Before the days of computer effects and modern creature makeup, here is a fantasy alive with trick shots and astonishing effects,” (Ebert, 1999) At the time of release, the film’s effects were seen as very impressive, especially considering how it was released during the end of World War II, and even now it remains as rather remarkable.

Fig 3: Film Still. A happy ending?
As Cocteau was a poet and painter himself, he wanted to portray the feeling of discontent after the end of World War II, which effected not only the filming, but the entirety of France. This feeling of discontent can be seen throughout the film’s dimly lit set design and body parts as special effects. Ebert explains that “Cocteau, a poet and surrealist, was not making a ‘children’s film’ but was adapting a classic French tale that he felt had a special message after the suffering of World War II: Anyone who has an unhappy childhood may grow up to be a Beast” (Ebert, 1999) the film has a constant feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction, even for the happy ending. Such as when the Beast is turned into a human again, Beauty has a brief moment of dissatisfaction, much like many of the people of France and throughout the world with news of the War being over, leaving no more fighting but also many people who have lost family, friends, homes, and are struggling to survive.

Fig 4: Concept Art.

The concept art for the film was created by fashion illustrator Christian Berard, and was brought in to be the film’s production designer. There was a very minimalistic style to his concept art, with little colour and mostly working on a black background with chalk. Berard’s concept art portrays Cocteau’s vision for the film, as not being a children’s film, but a retelling of a fairy-tale with dark evocative sets, and the feelings of a harsh reality and discontent riddled throughout the film.

Snider says that “You can also see Cocteau’s whimsical, imaginative visual style reflected in the films of Tim Burton, Michel Gondry, and Terry Gilliam” (Snider, 2011), Cocteau’s mysterious and dark vision of the fairy tale has not only influenced Disney’s animated film ‘Beauty and the Beast’, with giving the body part props of candle holders, table centerpieces, and talking doors personalities, but has also influenced many directors with his dark yet whimsical style.

Roger Ebert, 1999, Beauty and the Beast Review,
Eric D. Snider, 2011, What’s the Big Deal? Beauty and the Beast Review,

Fig 1: La Belle et la Bête poster.
Fig 2: La Belle et la Bête film still.
Fig 3: La Belle et la Bête film still.
Fig 3: La Belle et la Bête concept art, Berard.

No comments:

Post a Comment