Monday, 4 October 2010

Le Belle et la Bete (1946)

image copyright DisCina
The first thing to note about this film is that it is in many ways a stage production that has been filmed, with the actors moving around as though in front of an audience.  This is particularly noticable in the way that the actors strike up their poses in such a way as to ensure that they are facing the camera.  Having said that, the movie does make use of facililties not available on stage, such as the use of double exposure to actually show the audience the image in the magic mirror, as well as slow motion to produce a dreamlike effect.  Indeed, the director Jean Cocteau has produced a film that the New York Times film reviewer Bosley Crowther described as "a fabric of gorgeous visual metaphors, of undulating movements and rhythmic pace, of hypnotic sounds and music".
Although the movie can feel extremely clunky, particularly to modern eyes, many pieces of its visual design have had an enduring effect upon cinema.  For instance, it cannot be a coincidence that the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical "The Phantom of the Opera" features a scene in which the heroine walks down a corridor lit by candelabra affixed to the wall by animate golden human arms, a device used heavily in this film. 
 Indeed, Dennis Grunes of "Films de France", describes the set design and direction as  " some of the most impressive and memorable to have been recorded on film...its numerous living gargoyles and doors which open and close of their own accord, the castle in Cocteau’s film is as alive as the Beauty or the Beast, and plays no less a role in the film."
A part of the film that I missed when I watched it is the roman mythology and symbolism; however the "silver screenings" review pointed out that "At first it seems odd that he (Cocteau) would include Roman mythology (The Temple of Diana in the castle grounds) into a French fairytale. Yet those that remember the myth of Diana will recall that she was the goddess of beasts and the hunt, shunning all male contact. One day when a Prince named Actaeon spied on Diana bathing, she turned him into a stag and set his own dogs upon him. Suddenly the shots of mauled deer and the countless dog statues in the film make more sense."
Overall, this is a very sophisticated film, full of rich imagery and a slow, measured storytelling that can seem dull at times, but overall combine to produce a very striking effect.

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