I’ve heard great things about the films of Jean Cocteau. But i have never seen any of his films (aside from one unnamed short i stumbled upon). But i’ve heard tales of his penchant to artistic and innovative designs in his films. His 1946 La Belle et La Bête has been in my to-watch list forever, so i choose it as my February BLIND SPOT entry.
“On my face there’s a plenty of cracks, wounds and itches and my hands are bleeding”.
My earliest memories of Beauty and The Beast was not the Disney adaptation, in fact i don’t think i ever sit through one (but i do remember the theme song fondly). Instead i remember Meatloaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That). Over the year over a dozen of films has made from the 17th century fairytale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. The latest adaptation of the source material is a french-german version that would be released later this month called La Belle et La Bête, with Léa Seydoux as Belle. Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation was the first film adaptation of the source (if i’m not mistaken).
Once upon a time, there’s a young girl named Belle (Josette Day). She lives with his father (Marcel André), who just lost their riches at sea. Despite of that, the other family members Adélaïde, Félicie and Ludovic still indulge themselves in their luxurious livfestyle, while Belle slaves around the house. When an opportunity arise to recovered their fortune, the father traveled through forests but alas he got lost instead. He stumbled upon an deserted castle and where he steals a stem of rose that Belle desire without knowing the consequences of his action. The beast who lurks in the castle demand him to stay in the castle forever or one of his children should take his place instead. Feeling remorse, because the rose was her demand, Belle took his father place instead.
The film immediately showed its splendour as you went into the castle of Beast. The appropriate use of low end technology made the movie truly exceptional, even compared to the overwhelming, CGI-laden, Disney remakes nowadays. Instead of getting a moving tea pot we saw men posing as sculpture moving his eyes following the movement of an uninvited guest, decapitated hands holding candelabras (shown in the pictures above), it was subtle yet achieved the intended effects of an enchanted castle. The black and white made the film works even more because of the contrasts and play of shadows gave it an allure of mystery as if something sinister lurks just beneath it all. The wardrobe were elaborate, but the make up was really the icing of the cake here. Jean Marais handsome face was transformed without loosing its human quality, yet look absolutely owned the wild characteristic of an animal. Sans prosthetics too! Cocteau really weave every facets of the film to ensure its otherworldly flare and made everything seemed charmingly magical.
I personally found the decision to cast both Jean Marais as both la Bête/le Prince and Avenant is simply genius. Especially considering Belle reaction towards the reveal, in which she was hesitant at the transformation of Beast. I think it put emphasis on the whole ‘falling in love with a person not beneath what appears on the eyes’. Just like the film it does not only sell its magical visual appeal, it offers a depth within its story. Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête is definitely a film worth to be experienced.
LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE (1946)
GENRE Romance, Fantasy
DIRECTOR Jean Cocteau | PRODUCER André Paulvé | WRITER Jean Cocteau, | MUSIC Georges Auric | CINEMATOGRAPHER Henri Alekan | EDITOR Claude Iberia | DISTRIBUTOR Lopert Pictures | COUNTRY France | RUNNING TIME 93 minutes | RELEASE October 29, 1946
STARRING Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Marcel Andre
C’est un peu de cette naïveté que je vous demande et, pour nous porter chance à tous, laissez-moi vous dire quatre mots magiques, véritable «sésame ouvre-toi» de l’enfance: Il était une fois…
DID YOU KNOW? Joan Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bette not only has a great set design, the cast also lavishly dressed in couture-worthy costumes. The costumes were manufactured at the workshop of the famous Paris couture house of Jeanne Lanvin, with the men’s costumes under the supervision of Lanvin designer Pierre Cardin. The make up, particularly for La Bête is definitely a sight to behold, bellow are series of photographs showing Jean Marais transition to Beast.