Thursday, 27 October 2016

La Belle et la Bête Film review

La Belle et la Bête Film review

Fig.1 Poster

Directed by Jean Cocteau, ‘La Belle et la Bête’ is a 1946 French film that takes upon itself to adapt the well-known fairy tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (La Belle et la Bête). While the story has told over again through a manor of different interpretations the film remains easy to follow, playing along the traditional fairy tale fashion of humble beings and happy ends.

La Belle et la Bête’ remains mostly faithful to Jeanne-Marie’s age-old fairy tale with the main components of the film being present, a magical castle, a beauty, a beast and a proud villain. After seeing the financial situation of Belle’s (Beauty) family, the father goes off to in an attempt to resolve the situation only to be confronted by the beast. This results in the Belle’s faith being tested by the beast eventually leading to the pair’s happy end.

Cocteau makes great use of a combination of camera tricks, lighting and setting to create an uplifting and magical (, although not as we would perceive it today,) feeling to his world. In this regard the film can be attributed to Cocteau hiring Rene Clement to assist with his portray to the audience. This “magic” is recognised by Roger Ebert as he states “The Beast's dwelling is one of the strangest ever put on film--Xanadu crossed with Dali”, (Ebert, 1999) consisting of more surrealist imagery. As seen in the image below the candelabra are held in place by hands rather than the conventional wall mounted brackets.

Fig. 2

The set design of the castle consistently shows actor as part of the set. While it is an unusual choice it gives the surrounding castle a rather strange and unreal atmosphere. One could describe it as magical as the statues follow the moving figures and the hands react to anyone within proximity. Unnatural at the least the “magic” seen is not one typical of Disney with over the top theatrics and showy nature, instead the display is subtle adding to the set.

Alongside the statues and hands the doors part ways without any physical contact adding to the atmosphere. Not only does the castle have an unreal sense but the forest that it is set in also has a certain enchantment. Branches part way to lead on suspicious travellers, mist saturates the air limiting visibility and at the right moment in the right place the sun highlights its true depth and beauty.
“Its special effects are prehistoric compared to those of our digital 21st century, and yet they are deeply disturbing” (Bradshaw, 2014). One of the film’s most notable features is the use of special effects especially for that time period. While there is a heavy use of dry ice one of the more effective uses of a camera effect was the slow motion scene of Belle running through the castle. Now a cinema staple the slow motion shot gives time for the audience to understand the grave nature of the situation and appears to make time grind to a slow halt as the heroine manically rushes towards the beast.  A less commonly seen effect was the use of reversed footage giving a strange and obscure feel showing Cocteau’s more avant-garde side daring to use new techniques with his media.

Fig. 3 enchanted forest

Alongside the set design the camera angle used is effective in telling the story with the shot being more fluid with some shots even using the rule of thirds. With this light is used to accentuate specific parts of the screen such as the face highlighting the expression. This is used in combination with focus to further draw the viewers’ attention to specific areas.  By having the camera focus where the character is looking the audience has a greater insight into their current thoughts.

Despite being a fairy tale it can be debated that the film has more meaning beyond that.  While the main morals are present, do not take appearance for face value, there is also the concept of female empowerment. Cocteau had not created a film for children, like the Walt Disney interpretation of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ but rather one for adults as well.

In the end “La Belle et la Bête’ has a very strong fairy tale feel with a charming nature to the film that draws the viewer in despite the limitations of the time. The imagery given proving to be striking and the effects magical Cocteau has proven to create a strong film with use of new concepts. “It is formally exquisite and heartfelt and entirely absorbing: a secret fairytale for adults.” (Bradshaw, 2014)


Bradshaw, P (2014), La Belle et la Bête - Review

Ebert, R (1999), Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Malcolm, D (1999), Jean Cocteau: La Belle et La Bête

Illustration list

Fig. 1

Fig. 2
Fig. 3

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