La belle et la bete (1946)

I think I’ve said before about the frankly odd position Jean Cocteau occupies in film history, and this occupies its own odd place in film history generally (let’s face it, it’s an odd film for the French film industry to cough up at that time—production began within weeks of war’s end) and Cocteau’s particular career… an artist making what was intended as a commercial product, 16 years after his last (markedly NOT commercial) film, at a time when a gap like that was actually something, and, as Christopher Frayling notes in his DVD commentary, still an “auteur” work. Here Cocteau takes a fairytale written for children but makes it into a film for adults—this isn’t a kids’ film—while still retaining that fairytale character that’s reasonably faithful to its spirit (if not the letter of the particular text Cocteau adapted, to which he added elements of “Cinderella” and made other changes)… considering the many and varied production problems he apparently faced (including his own shabby health), it’s probably remarkable it was even finished, let alone that it turned out as marvellous as it did. Some of the trickery is simple (slow motion and reverse motion), but obviously there’s more complicated stuff, like the beast himself… although what really makes the beast work, of course, is Jean Marais’ performance under that astounding mask (look at his eyes); Frayling makes a comparison between Marais’ beast and Karloff’s monster in Frankenstein which I think is quite astute. I suppose you can, of course, make an argument that the film’s real star was Henri Alekan’s camerawork, though; Cocteau apparently wanted experts around him to cover for his own inexperience, and Alekan proved a fine choice for getting Cocteau’s vision on film. Terrific argument for black and white cinematography, which the Criterion DVD inadvertently proves with its hand-coloured photo artwork, which just seems wrong somehow… Nice seeing this again; yet another film I haven’t seen in too long…

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One thought on “La belle et la bete (1946)

  1. SJHoneywell December 14, 2012 at 1:50 am

    It’s a special film, isn’t it? My favorite aspect of this is how human the Beast is. We end up liking him because he seems like such a decent person put in such an unfortunate situation (and yes, the eyes, damnit!). I love the dreamy fantasy elements, too–the arms sticking out of the walls, the faces in the fireplace. A lovely, lovely film.

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