Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Film Review: La Belle et La Bête

Fig 1: Poster for "La Belle et La Bête"

La Belle et La Bête
is a 1946 black and white, rendition of the classic fairytale, Beauty and the Beast. While it is a short and rather generic film depicting the love of the Beauty by the Beast, the Beauty's siblings and Admirer are attempting to get her away from the Beast's hairy clutches. The set design of the Beast's castle and the designs of the costumes, especially the dresses that the characters wear are complex. This is due to the collaboration of the Director Jean Cocteau and the fashion designer Christian Bérard who previously worked on Vogue and Coco Chanel, which finally results in the magnificient trailing gowns, loads of diamonds and glitter and layers upon layers of fabric for the dresses that move with such grace that its like they were made of magic. The internal shots of the castle also give this sense of enchantment, completely juxtapositioning the dull, real life props of the village for lavish decor mixed in with cursed human parts, like arms holding lamps and curtains and statue busts on the walls that move their heads as they watch everything that Beauty and Beast do."Herein lies Cocteau’s core dichotomy, the idea that both monstrosity and beauty can be concealed skillfully from the naïve eye, but will eventually spill out like a cup brimming with too much water."- Glen Heath Jr. "Little White Lies"
Fig 2: Scene from the Film as Belle enters the castle for the first time

The film starts with Belle's brother, Ludovic, and Avenant shooting arrows at a target. One of the arrows misses and flies through the window nearly hitting the family dog and the two sisters, Adelaide and Felice. Belle is then introduced into the scene, treated less like a family member and more of a maid as she cleans, and cooks for the rest of the family. One day the father, a merchant by trade, goes away for the day and asks each of the daughters what they would like as a present for when he returns. The two sisters ask for a monkey and a parrot while Belle asks for a simple rose. After the meeting and finding out that if he didn't get enough money his house would be repossesed, the Merchant leaves in a rush and ends up in the woods.  As it is approaching night he stumbles upon a castle, where as he enters it he sees some truly bizarre decorations, lamps being held to the wall by hands, food prepared on the table even though the place is deserted of any living thing.  The Merchant falls asleep in a chair by the table. Just as he leaves the next morning he stumbles upon a rose garden, picking one for Belle, before suddenly the Beast appears threatening the old man, saying that because he picked his most prized possession he must face the consequences. He then asks the man how many daughters the man has, willing to spar his life in return for one of the three daughters. The merchant tells Beast about how Belle pleaded with him to get a rose as she missed the sight of them so and the Beast requests that he brings her to him. The Father agrees and apologises to Belle when he returns to the village, but Belle is willing to go as she recognises that it was her fault that her father got into this mess.
Belle goes to the castle on horse back, and wanders through the place, before coming into contact with the Beast in the bedroom. She is initially shocked at his ugly appearance but as the time with him goes on she begins to form a friendship, meeting him for dinner at 7pm everyday, answering his questions that if he wasn't ugly would she fall in love with him?. As she continues to live there she starts to explore the castle in more depth, and happens upon the Beast drinking water from a pond like a dog and having an urge to hunt for a deer when the two walk around the castle grounds.
After staying with the Beast for such a long time, Belle begins to feel homesick for her father, looking through a magic mirror in her room to see him bedridden makes her want to see him more. After pleading with the Beast he agrees to let her go but asks her to promise him that she'd come back to him, entrusting her with a key to a special building in the castle which contains the power that provides the castle with magic. He also gives her one of his gloves that has the power of teleportation. Belle, dressed in a white draping dress and a crown, lies on her bed and puts on the glove. In a flash she emerges in her father's room, where her Dad lies, sick in his bed. She starts to cry diamonds as she moves to his bed side, apologising for not being able to see him and for the state he is in. In a way of revenge Belle's siblings decide to try and kill the Beast, taking the key he entrusted to Belle. The two men head off on the horse that led Belle to the castle in the first place, on the day where she was meant to return to him. Belle, worried about the Beast from images she saw of him through the magic mirror, uses the glove to transport herself back to the castle, and runs to find him in the courtyard in a very feeble and weak state. Avenant and Ludovic find the treasure room and climb up to the roof, believing that the front door would be a trap. After breaking the glass roof, Avenant begins to climb down until he is shot with a stone arrow from a statue of Artemis. At the same time the Beast rises up from the ground in one fell swoop, his appearance changing into that of Avenant while a beast lies bleeding on the floor of the treasure room. Belle and the Beast exchange words before they fly off into the sky with the promise of marrying back at the Princes' kingdom.

Fig 3: Screenshot of Belle and the Beast

The pacing and the way the shots were filmed and how they transact to the next scene as well as how basic the plot is does let the film down slightly. With shots going on for too long and weird Windows Movie Maker-like transitions to the next scenes really do not assist with immersing the veiwer in. On the other hand, the sets for La Belle et la Bête are rather lavish, especially Belle's room in the castle. The way that the film shows the difference between the village where Belle and her family lived and the castle through making the castle both outstanding and abandoned helps give a feel of the characters and their emotions. "On planet Cocteau strange is good. Children as well as adults, may find the atmosphere dangerously addictive."- Charlotte O'Sullivan from This is LondonHowever the set design is overtaken by the extravagant costume design. The magnificent ball gowns and outlandish entire for the transformed Beast at the finale of the film really showcases the supernatural aspect of the magical influence of the castle and of its residents. Even the two sisters in the village have wonderfully designed dresses that are wild and out there to reflect the two's desire for a life of luxury with men of wealth. The film really captures the designs of Bérard's concept works for the film, and of his experience in the fashion industry."With interiors that owe much to the paintings of Doré and Vermeer, this visual feast is enhanced by the magical realism of Henri Alekan's photography, Christian Bérard's exquisite costumes and Georges Auric's audacious score." -David Parkinson "Radiotimes"

Glen Heath Jr quote: 
Charlotte O'Sullivan quote: http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/film/la-belle-et-la-b-te-film-review-9034639.html
David Parkinson quote: http://www.radiotimes.com/film/nbcjr/la-belle-et-la-bte

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