Thursday, 7 October 2010

La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Film: La Belle et la Bête (1946)
Director: Jean Cocteau
Writer(s): Jean Cocteau

Josette Day - Belle
Jean Marais - The Beast/Avenant/The Prince
Mila Parely - Felice
Nane Germon - Adelaide
Michel Auclair - Ludovic
Marcel André - Belle’s Father
"The classic tale of true love triumphing over appearance is memorably told in this post-war Jean Cocteau experience." - Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK

La Belle et la Bête (The Beauty and The Beast) is a love story between a beast man and a young woman called Belle. Belle lives with her father, her two snobby sisters, and her drunk of a brother. Belle's brother's friend, Avenant, is in love with Belle, and even though she admits to loving him, she refuses to marry him as she doesn't want to leave her father. One night when her father is returning home he gets lost and ends up in the Beast's enchanted castle. He had promised Belle a rose so decides to pick one from the Beast's garden, however, the Beast catches him and tells him that he must either give up his own life or send one of his daughters to go live in his castle. Belle sneaks out to take her father's place after he told the story, even though he disallowed it. 

"Cocteau plays up the differences between the ultra-realistic world of Belle's cottage -- with its huge white sheets hung up for drying in the backyard -- and Beast's castle, with its living statues with eyes that follow you wherever you go. When Belle first enters the castle, she moves in slow motion, as if running in a dream." -Jeffrey M. Anderson,

Belle is initially scared of the Beast but he still asks her to marry him every night at 7pm. She refuses each time and tells the Beast that it's not because of the way he looks but because she is in love with Avenant. The Beast eventually lets Belle leave so that she can see her father while he is ill. He gives her the key to all his treasure and tells her that if she does not return to marry him in one week he will die of grief. On the same day that Belle is due to go back to marry the Beast, her sisters, brother, and Avenant go to the Beasts castle with the intention of stealing his wealth and killing him. The Beast is almost dead from grief as Belle is yet to return but as Avenant breaks into the pavilion (which is filled with treasure) he is shot by the arrow of Diana, a roman goddess, which turns him into a beast. At the same time the original beast recovers and is returned his original human form as a prince. Belle and the prince live happily ever after.

Many cultures throughout history have held the belief that the gods had the power to transform humans into animals as a form of punishment. This is represented in La Belle et la Bête with Diana, the goddess of the hunt (who is associated with wild animals), when she transforms Avenant into a beast for breaking into the pavilion to steal the treasure. This suggests that the beast himself may be guilty of the same crime, but when he learns that his love for Belle is more important than wealth, he is transformed back into a human. In this case the metamorphosis is not only a physical change but also a symbol of the character's change and growth. The beast himself is also a symbol of greed and the more primal urges of humans, that although we all have them, we should not always act on them. 

Lastly, the film also touches on the good old "never judge a book by its cover":

"The Beast may look "horrible" (his words), but he has a heart of gold, contrasting directly with the two untrustworthy sisters and the greedy Avenant, who look fair enough on the outside but are far more beastly inside." -

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