Saturday, 9 October 2010

Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946)




Jean Marais
La Bête (The Beast) / The Prince / Avenant
Josette Day
Mila Parély
Nane Germon
Michel Auclair
Raoul Marco
The Usurer
Marcel André
Belle's Father

Beauty and the Beast is a film largely based around the saying don’t judge a book by its cover, we need to look at the inner beauty underneath a hideous exterior. It uses many dreamlike and surreal sequences to show the idea that it is a fairytale story which is done very well through clever imagery even though it does come across as extremely outdated.

We are introduced to Belle’s family who live in a large house but are on the verge of losing it all due to financial crisis. This doesn’t stop Belle’s sisters Adélaïde and Félicie taking advantage of the luxuries ordering around Belle to clean for them and get their slaves to cart them around. Belle’s brother Ludovic despises the way that his sisters treat Belle and is especially protective of her even with his best friend Avenant who wants to marry Belle. After Belle’s father finds out that the only ship that has returned from sea has been impounded he goes to see if he can get his riches. Unfortunately he is told he can’t and makes his way back home on a stormy evening through the woods, but he gets lost and takes refuge in a castle. When he leaves he takes a rose from the garden to give to his daughter Belle on request however he is confronted by the beast and for the theft of the rose is given two options. Either to face his own death, or one of his daughters to take his place. Belle feels responsible for her father’s predicament and takes his place against his will. She finds however that the Beast doesn’t wish to kill her but to marry her and shower her with his riches which he continues to ask her every evening. At first Belle refuses but as she spends more and more time with the beast she learns of his kind but tortured soul beneath his hideous exterior.

‘Jean Cocteau’s 1946 Beauty and the Beast affords certain interpretations based on the director’s background as a poet: it is an artist working in a medium with which he is secondarily familiar, and thus assumes an aesthetic bias. As Cocteau properly retains in his diary of the film’s making, Beauty and the Beast has the structure of a poem, its inherent ambiguity, moral narrative, and visual emphasis.’

The film is heavily influenced by theatre as Jean Cocteau was interested in poetry and playwriting which is evident in the acting and music. The acting is very theatrical, many of the scenes show the characters experiencing over exaggerated emotion to convey how they are feeling which is accompanied with an opera style music conveying either scary moments with crashes of percussion or gentle moments accompanied with beautiful voices and soft string instruments. The music which accompanies the Beast in the film goes through a slow change throughout the film. When the audience is introduced to the Beast the music is loud with crashing symbols and low trumpets but as his character develops throughout the film his accompanying music changes to softer tones.


The film knows it is a fairytale and gives the audience so much imagery and surrealist ideas. When the audience is introduced to the castle at the beginning it shows the surreal imagery of self lighting candles held up by arms coming through the walls and waiting Belle’s father at the table which even Belle’s father can’t believe and looks under the table hoping to find someone underneath. There are also moving statues on the fireplace which blows out smoke as the father sits at the table following his every move with their eyes. An incredible scene which shows off a dreamlike sequence is when Belle runs into the castle later on in the film where the movement is slowed down and Belle’s dress is flowing.

‘The disembodied servants in the Beast’s magical castle are there, although they remain wordless hands and faces appearing and disappearing out of the walls and furniture. No Mrs. Potts singing songs about being our guest, unfortunately. Still, the sight of stony faces peering out of the fireplace mantle, slowly tracking Belle with their eyes, is enchanting … and haunting.’


The Beast’s character development is an incredible and deep part of the film. At the beginning the audience is introduced to a wicked hideous beast that has no empathy with anyone, however when he is introduced to beauty his character changes dramatically and even Belle comments on this change at points. When the Beast meets Belle his voice descends greatly and becomes much less aggressive. This shows the audience of the beast’s true nature and it is only a matter of time before Belle begins to realise this as well such as the scene when she lets him drink from her hands. Beast has an ongoing battle to repel his beastly instincts to attack Belle which you can see in a number of scenes especially the one where he is covered in blood which engages the audience into feeling sorry for the Beast. However at the end when the Beast transforms he loses his hideous exterior and continues to show Belle his genuinely gentle feelings however this confuses Belle as she became so close to the beastly exterior.

‘The challenge for the beast is rising above his base, animal instincts to embrace his essential humanity, which will elevate him to Belle’s league. But theirs is a reciprocal relationship. Belle humanizes the castle, as well as the beast. She is the feminine domesticating the masculine, using eroticism to tame his bestiality’

Overall Beauty and the Beast is a film focusing around that inner beauty can overcome the exterior with incredible dreamlike and surreal scenes which even though seem slightly outdated at time is still a magical experience all round. You can also really see the amount of ideas that the Disney version borrows in incorporating in its film from the Beast’s attire when they dance is very similar to that of the beast in the 1946 version. I think it may be the fact that I grew up on Disney films and Beauty and the Beast being a continuous watch at a young age among others I still feel that the Disney version is more magical in my eyes (The dancing scene is incredible and a mastery of animation: ‘"The ballroom sequence features the first computer-generated color background to be both animated and fully dimensional," says Jim Hillin, CGI Artistic Supervisor for Beauty and the Beast.’)

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