Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Film Review - La Belle et la Bete (Jean Cocteau, 1946)

Fig 1. La Belle et la Bete Poster

The classic tale of beauty and the beast brought to the screen. This French black and white film had a particular focus on its set design and costume design. This is very clear throughout the film as there are constant switches between the environment of the castle and that of Belle's family home. The decadence and grandeur of the beast's castle, set against the fairly plain and 'common' environment of the family home.

The camera switches between these two places fairly regularly throughout the film, most likely to subtly emphasize the key differences. This, combined with the mystical forest sequences where the characters are journeying from one to the other, makes it feel like they are completely different worlds. Belle's home is set in a harsh reality whereas the castle is set in a realm of magic and seems like an escape from this reality.

One of the early sequences in the film shows the father of Belle finding the castle for the first time and being lead by magical hands that come out of the walls, lighting his way (See Fig 2). This is the first real scene to show the audience that this is a magical place (besides some spooky opening doors shown minutes earlier).

Fig 2. Corridor Scene

With regards to the fairytale roots of the film, Louise Brealy from empireonline had this to say ''Cocteau uses wispy strands of lighting to magical effect and, to his credit, never attempts to fashion anything but a fairytale, inducing a childlike wonder rather than some cerebral reaction'' (Brealy, s.d.).
 Mixtures of smoke and light are used well to emphasize the more mysterious qualities in scenes. For instance, when the character of the beast is shown as more of an animal, small amounts of smoke surround and envelop him, this seems to add to the animal-like nature of the character (See Fig 3). The smoke coming off the top of his head looks fairly similar to the hair covering him, which means that the audience can quite easily be tricked by this. Simple effects like this are used very effectively to take the audience further from a sense of reality in this film and deeper into the sense of a fairy tale.

Fig 3. The Beast

''the departure of Belle for the Beast's castle and her entry there are totally stylised, with Cocteau employing slow motion photography to obtain a dreamlike effect.'' (Armes, s.d.). Within this film there are three main areas, Belle's hometown, the beast's castle and the woods between. There are very few scenes in the film involving the woods and it is shown only as a place of transition between the other two. Through the use of slow-motion photography and low-light shots, the woods are shown as a magical portal of sorts where travelers can lose themselves in and cannot easily navigate out of.

At the very beginning of the film, the father of Belle happens upon the beast's castle by accident when heading home. This makes it seem as though the woods are constantly shifting and twisting their paths to deceive anyone who dares venture them.

Overall, La Belle et la Bete has gotten a lot of things right. Its exterior and interior scenes are visually stunning, as are the costumes, and its narrative is both faithful to the original tale and artistically retold with its own style. The clever technical effects are used well and all of these things come together to create a very unique and a visually breathtaking film.

Illustration List

Cocteau, J (1946) Figure 1. La Belle et la Bete Poster. http://fr.web.img3.acsta.net/pictures/210/201/21020192_2013092716451197.jpg (Accessed on 30/10/14)

Cocteau, J (1946) Figure 2. Corridor Scene. http://thepandorian.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/18828836.jpg (Accessed on 04/11/14)

Cocteau, J (1946) Figure 3. The Beast. http://locotigrero.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/la-belle-et-la-bete-beast-blood-smoke-2.jpg?w=300&h=223 (Accessed on 04/11/14)


Brealy, L (s.d.) http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=132405 (Accessed on 04/11/14)

Armes, R (s.d.) http://www.filmreference.com/Films-Aw-Be/La-Belle-et-la-B-te.html (Accessed on 04/11/14)

1 comment:

  1. Thoughtful review Jack, well done.

    Just be careful that you don't stray into chatty or 'slang' language - for example where you say 'gotten'.