Beauty and the Beast (Belle et la bête, La) (1946)
Reviewed on 2008 January 8
This was one of the first French cinematic goodies I enjoyed (I think Diabolique was the very first), and years later Mr. Shukti found me a gorgeous Criterion edition DVD as an anniversary gift. It’s a wonderful black and white film that’s aged beautifully, and a good restoration will make those subtitles nice and easy to read.
This is Jean Cocteau’s take on the old story of Belle (Josette Day), the prettiest and nicest of three sisters. The other two, Felicie (Mila Parely) and Adelaide (Nane Germon), are also pretty but act like they went to the Imelda Marcos Finishing School for Girls. They ask their daddy (Marcel Andre), a struggling merchant, to bring them back expensive presents from a last-ditch business trip. Belle, mindful of her family’s financial situation, just asks him to bring her a rose on the way home.
The poor guy clips a rose from what appears to be an unowned estate, drawing the rage of its owner: The Beast (Jean Marais, who in an added bonus for women, was cartoonishly good-looking when he wasn’t wearing critter garb. Go watch Orphee.). The Beast is so enraged by Dad’s ad hoc gardening that he will keep him as a prisoner, unless Belle agrees to take his place. Belle agrees, and that’s when the story really gets going.
What’s striking about this is that for an hour and a half, Cocteau reminds you of what it felt like when your parents read you a fairy tale, and yet it’s not a kid’s movie. The special effects in this film are astonishing, especially when you consider it was made in 1947. I love the candleholders, and the bit where Belle slips on the magic glove is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
Four chocolate morsels.