Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Shapeshifters Film Review 3: Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Fig. 1. Film Poster
              John Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête was produced a year after the WWII occupation ended in France. Based on the fairy tale written by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont in 1757 the story follows the struggle of a family in the midst of bankruptcy. The family can be viewed as a metaphor of post-war France, but that is not the only outside influence to be incorporated into the film, “In his mid-50s when he made the film, Cocteau was openly gay in an often viciously homophobic post-Vichy France, an opium addict, plagued by skin-disfiguring eczema, and yet still enamored of his much younger star, the Adonis-like Jean Marais, his sometime-lover and great friend and collaborator. In Marais's triple role (he plays the monstrous yet tender-hearted Beast; Avenant, the hunky but caddish suitor of Josette Day's La Belle; and the ensorcelled Prince Ardent, whom the Beast is ultimately revealed, with some ambivalence, to be)” (Cavitch, 2011).
So not only did Cocteau include a bit of France’s post-war culture into the film but he also subtly suggested his desire and sexual romance through the character of the Beast (Jean Marais). This can be seen through his gesture of wanting to watch Belle (Josette Day) eat dinner every evening; his animal urges of lust seeping out.
Fig. 2. Dinnertime

Putting all that aside though it’s still an old fairy tale with a moral, don’t judge a book by its cover. So the man can be a beast on the inside and the beast can be a gentleman on the inside. That is especially evident when comparing Beast to the two pompous daughters and Avenant, the desperate friend of the brother; “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.” (Nesbit, 2006)
Fig. 3. Sisters
Avenant can be considered Beasts counterpart in this film as he is portrayed as being greedy and overbearing whereas Beast is caring. In essence Avenant’s character is a physical representation of Beasts’ outwardly appearance: “In a striking addition to the tale, it's within the temple that Cocteau reveals handsome Avenant to be exactly as monstrous on the inside as the Beast is on the outside.” (Bourne, 2003). This just shows that his animalistic greed for Beasts’ treasure was worse than Beasts’ animal nature which he cannot help but have. The good no matter how ugly still prevail in the end.
 Fig. 4. Prince

Max Cavitch 2011 Slant Magazine (Accessed on: 09.10.11)
John Nesbit 2006 Old School Reviews (Accessed on: 09.10.11)
Mark Bourne 2003 DVD Journal (Accessed on: 09.10.11)

Illustration List 
Fig. 1. Cocteau, Jean (1946) La Belle et la Bete Poster At:,r:1,s:0&tx=84&ty=63
(Accessed on: 12.10.11)

Fig. 2. Dinnertime (1946) From: La Belle et la Bete Directed by: Jean Cocteau [film still] France: Lopert Pictures At: (Accessed on: 12.10.11)

Fig. 3. Sisters (1946) From: La Belle et la Bete Directed by: Jean Cocteau [film still] France: Lopert Pictures At: (Accessed on: 12.10.11)

Fig. 4. Prince (1946) From: La Belle et la Bete Directed by: Jean Cocteau [film still] France: Lopert Pictures At: (Accessed on: 12.10.11)

1 comment:

  1. "The good no matter how ugly still prevail in the end." I like this...

    I think it sums up the idea of the story quite well (down to its nuts and bolts). You got some decent quotes in here too, much more thought out.

    Good job mate, I wish you all the best with the rest. I hope some of the pointers I provided in the past have helped. Erm anyway, if I can get the net while im in Florida ill stop in to check on your gear.

    If not I'll be taking a gander when I return :) take it easy mate and thanks for the pointers you gave me... they were handy in figuring out the final destination of Waldepeer :)