Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Space Oddities: La Belle et la Bete Review (1946)

Fig 1: Film Poster

Most will recognise Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bete”(1946) as an intriguing adaption of the classic fairy tale. The more modern animated 1991 version by Disney was certainly inspired by the timeless feature and thus lead to it’s enormous success. However, much like Roger Ebert suggests: “Those familiar with the 1991 cartoon will recognize some of the elements of the story, but certainly not the tone” (Roger Ebert, 1999) the 1946 features a more adult and uncomfortable viewing experience, supported by a strange land that is discovered and the peculiar objects within.

Some may say that the beginning of the film bares a close resemblance to the plot of “Cinderella”(1950)  - Two sisters that torment a tender hearted sister, that isn’t as glamorously dressed everyday, plus cleans and does the chores ( can be seen in Fig 2 below.)

Fig 2: The Prince and Beauty talk.

“La Belle et la Bete” (1946) displays fantasy style special effects that delves the audience into a dream – like state. Much like Peter Bradshaw describes, “When bodies appear through walls or fly up into the air, it is almost as if Cocteau's camera has miraculously recorded a dream.” (Peter Bradshaw, 2014) Within the Beasts castle lays an array of magical going –ons – doors that open by themselves,  and here Harvey Karten describes: “The candles on the castle walls are held not by gadgets from Tru-Value hardware but by human arms. Candles brighten and darken magically according to the mood of the moment. A fog swirls outside–the sort of ambiance represented by the fog machine on the legitimate stage” (Harvey Karten, 2002). The assistants are not full human people, but rather just two human body parts: the arms and hands. They serve food and hold up candle lights, a magical mirror show’s the viewer a troubling future, the existence of a solitary Beast (seen in Fig 3) defies normal reality that people are used to: all of these attributes transport the audience into a fantasy, distorted and unsettling world, and much like the longing of Beauty wanting to return home, the viewer seeks normality again. 

Fig 3: Beauty and the Beast talk.

 Much like Roger Ebert states: “Before the days of computer effects and modern creature makeup, here is a fantasy alive with trick shots and astonishing effects,” (Roger Ebert, 1999) the special effects of this film can be seen as a marvel at the time of its release during World War II – and even now some still say it remains impressive. Cocteau also conveys a certain message with this feature, as explained here by Ebert: “...but was adapting a classic French tale that he felt had a special message after the suffering of World War II: Anyone who has an unhappy childhood may grow up to be a Beast” (Roger Ebert, 1999) indeed, it can be seen that the Beast longs for love and companionship, which many believe is essential when growing up.

Cocteau is thought of by many is more of a poet than a filmmaker. Just like Karten explains: –“Cocteau, who converts his poetry into art”(Harvey Karten, 2002) , “La Belle et la Bete” is a story turned into live action art. In addition to this, along with the props, extravagant costumes and wonderful sets, these aspects are also seen in a theatrical, artistic performance.

Fig 4: The Beast returns to a human form.

 The plot consists of the kind hearted Beauty (Josette Day) bullied by her two sisters. Their father is confronted by the Beast (Jean Marais) after a rose is plucked from his garden. The father is threatened by death unless one of his three daughters takes his place as a hostage. Beauty without hesitation takes her fathers place and meets the Beast, who asks for her hand in marriage. She declines, however slowly becomes fond of him, and sees the kindness in his heart. After a while, Beauty wishes to go home to see her father, in which the Beast agress, however if she did not return within a week, he would die of grief. Upon her return, the rest of her family see the immense riches she comes back with, and the two princes set of to kill the Beast to gain the riches. In a sudden twist, one of the princes is pierced with an arrow, and whilst being killed is turned into the beast, while the Beast becomes human (Fig 4). At the end of, the couple agree that even the most gentle man hides a beast within. 

Fig 5: A happy ending.

Evaluating the plot,it can be seen that even one with the most gold, silver and wealth; extravagant clothing and beautiful home isn’t truly content and truly seeks emotional satisfaction. Even Beauty is torn after coming from a less privileged background to a lavish lifestyle, and sets to comfort the beast.  

Indeed, it can be agreed that this film must be seen to appreciate the success of the 1991 Disney adaption that more people are familiar with. Cocteau depicts the more “real” harsh reality of the fairy tale, and in doing so captivates the viewer and warps them into is vision. 


Bradshaw, P. January 2nd, 2014. La Belle et la Bête – review, The Guardian, (Accessed on 27/10/2015) http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/jan/02/belle-et-bete-review
Crowther, B. December 24th, 1947. La Belle et la Bete (1946) the screen in review, The New York Times, (Accessed on 27/10/2015) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B03EFD71E3EEE3BBC4C51DFB467838C659EDE
Ebert, R. December 26th, 1999. Great Movie: Beauty and the Beast, Rogerebert.com, (Accessed on 27/10/2015) http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-beauty-and-the-beast-1946
Karten, H. 2002. La Belle et la Bete, IMBD.com, (Accessed on 27/10/2015) http://www.imdb.com/reviews/324/32428.html

Illustration List

Fig 2: "The Prince and Beauty talk." (Accessed on 27/10/2015)http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_tpu8WUDLubU/TKNAit-S8mI/AAAAAAAAARI/nx3qTCxntfA/s1600/jmbab3.jpg
Fig 4: "The Beast returns to a human form." (Accessed on 27/10/2015) http://intervistamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/la-belle-et-la-bete-1946-8238-1310736113.jpg

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review Manisha :)

    You have used quotes to underpin your discussion well - for the referencing after the quote, you only need the author's surname and the year, rather than the full name.