This is a film that I have wanted to watch for a very long time, ever since I first saw photographs from it in my brother’s horror movie book almost 30 years ago. Finally I got that chance today. This film was voted at number 26 in Empire magazine‘s 100 Best Films of World Cinema in 2010.
Jean Cocteau‘s La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) is a French masterpiece of surrealist cinema. The plot of the film follows the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale that we all know and love so well. Belle’s father wanders into the Beast’s castle where he unwittingly cuts a rose to give Belle on return from his travels. The Beast takes offense at this and gives Belle’s father an ultimatum, either he dies for this or he sends one of his daughters to pay his debt, and to become a prisoner of the Beast. Belle agrees to take her father’s place and although initially repulsed by the Beast, ends up admiring him. The Beast invites Belle to dinner, where he tells her that she’s in equal command to him and that she will be asked every day to marry him.
Days pass as Belle grows more accustomed and fond of the Beast, but she continues to refuse marriage. Using the magic mirror Belle finds her father deathly ill. The Beast grants her permission to leave for a week. Belle’s sisters devise a plan to keep Belle from returning to the Beast and Belle reluctantly agrees to stay the Beast almost dies of a broken heart. Belle returns to the Beast while Belle’s admirer Avenant, and her brother Ludovico, attempt to enter the castle so that they can slay the Beast. As the Beast dies in Belle’s arms, Avenant breaks into the Pavilion through its glass roof and is shot with an arrow by an animated statue of the Roman goddess Diana and is himself turned into a Beast. As this happens, arising from where the Beast lay dead is Prince Ardent (Marais) who is cured from being the Beast. Prince Ardent and Belle embrace, then fly away to his kingdom where she will be his Queen, and where her father will stay with them and Belle’s sisters will carry the train of her gown.
It is a really beautiful movie and I don’t know why my brother’s old book labeled it as a horror film. Sure the Beast bears a resemblance to Lon Chaney Jr.‘s Wolfman character, but the actual movie is very romantic with quite a bit of fantasy thrown in for good measure. Anything horrific is done off-screen. It is simply a great, enjoyable film, although some of the special effects are dodgy by Hollywood standards, whilst the ending is a little strange and is perhaps the only weak point of the film.