Sunday, 2 October 2011

La Belle Et La Bête (1946) review

Directed by French poet and film maker, Jean Cocteau, the film is considered to be one of the original classics of the French Fairytale. A French romantic fantasy from the classic Beauty and the Beast where it tells the tale of a girl sacrificing herself in exchange for her father’s freedom falls in love with the beast.

Title screen for La Belle et la Bete
A half ruined merchant lives in the country with his son Ludovic and his three daughters, Félicie and Adélaïde who similarly alike in Cinderella are Anastasia and Drizella and treats Belle (played by Josette Day) as a servant. One day, coming home from a business trip, the merchant gets lost in the middle of a forest and seeks the place for shelter. He finds an old strange castle, on the way he finds a rose and picks it for Belle.  However the castle’s owner appears, a half human half beast (played by Jean Marais) who possesses magic powers sentences the poor merchant to death, unless he gives up one of his daughters in his place. Belle sacrifices herself for her father and stays in the castle, which throughout the course of the film the two characters go through a series of events that show them the true meaning of love as well as discovering things aren’t what they seem.

Based on two French fairytales, the first which the film has mostly followed on with the same title was written by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and published in 1757. As for the second fairytale, La Chatte Blanche by Marie-Cathérine d'Aulnoy and published in 1694, a part of the narrative from the book was taken which the servants were magically reduced to arms and hands whilst performing all servant’s chores.

Sevant's being reduced to arms and holding some candles with "Once upon a time.." written to introduce the story
Like most classic films, the film starts off with credits sometimes either written on a chalkboard and sometimes not, as the credit rolls there’s some wash wipes of people walking pass in front of the camera to show the next set of credits. Then the film begins with a written comment from the director himself, explaining why he made this into a film. He talks about the passion in making the film and the troubles happening at the time. Like (Andy, IMDB),”He ends this written dialogue with a comment that will forever remain in my mind. He says, "...and now, we begin our story with a phrase that is like a time machine for children: Once Upon a Time..."”, which with this line, it hints to the audience that this story is aimed at people of all ages but, it’s like it is used to bring out the child in all of us as it is easy to understand.

The film sets in medieval- Elizabethan era judging by the clothes and the lifestyles such as high class people (like the sisters) ride in box carriages carried by four men. The village and its people have characteristics similar to the time of the Salem witch trials, where everyone is superstitious of myths and legends as well as luck and fortune.

The making of its special effects were well thought out such as the arms on the walls, which holds a lit candle and moves in the direction of the person walking in before turning it off again leaving the area shrouded in complete darkness with only a single source of light from the roof coming in. Another thing is that the makeup used on some servants’ faces to blend in with the walls, giving them a live statue look which their eyes follow around some characters. The make ups and prosthetics used on Marais which according to Marais, it took him 5 hours to complete them. The set design at that time was very good as for most of the time Cocteau had to improvise, since it was near the end of World War two as well as France about to be demolished. But because of this, fear was in everyone’s minds during the war but finding love in the darkest of places helped made the film become a big hit.

The creepy servant face on the fireplace walls have make up  and well blend them into the walls.
It is noticeable of how other films to this day were influenced, such as Cinderella, Disney’s version of The Beauty and the Beast and Snow White, where looking through a magic mirror can reflect on a person’s true identity. So basically the film’s moral slightly goes in the lines of “Don’t judge a book by its cover” as there are more things than just the appearance.

Though in the story, everyday at seven o’clock, the beast will appear to Belle at the dining table and asks her the same question, “Will you marry me?” Belle’s replies the same answer. “No” and declares that she will never marry him. However, the more she replies, the more her heart softens. As her heart softens, so does the beast’s inhuman nature, it is obvious that from the start of the film onwards, he wants to retain his humanity but is slowly stepping backwards of progression to the characteristics of a feral beast, as depicted in the scene where he is in the garden and tries to hold back his instincts to catch a deer. His love for Belle is strong since he asks her the repetitive question at the same time and place, though it is obvious that he is in pain as noticed when he tells Belle not to look into his eyes.

The scene where Avenant, Ludovic’s friend (also played by Marais) is shot down by a statue of Diane inside the pavilion whilst climbing down to get the Beast’s riches, the idea of using the statue of Diana is interesting. Dating back to the Roman mythology, Diane was a Roman goddess of hunting and beast. The story behind the roman goddess goes as a Prince named Actaeon went and spied on Diana bathing, he gets caught by Diana and as punishment, and she turns him into a stag and sets his dogs upon him. So it is noticeable of how Cocteau was inspired by this and also added some parts of the story onto the film itself. “Suddenly the shots of mauled deer and the countless dog statues in the film make more sense. Cocteau accurately observed that the elements of the Beauty and Beast tale date back much further than we usually think.”(Silver Screenings,

The odd thing about the film was the beast’s transformation and “and, how appealing Marais is as the Beast, and how shallow and superficial he seems as the pompadour prince. Even Belle doesn't leap cheerfully into his arms, but looks quizzically at her new catch and confesses she misses the Beast.” (Roger Ebert, though the rewinding effect of the fully transformed prince landing back onto his feet looked quite convincing. Though the part where the prince and Belle fly off to his palace and declares her queen looked amusing as well as looking similarly to the effect of superman flying off with Louis.

List of Illustrations:

Cocteau, J (1946) Film Cover: 

Title screen for La Belle et la Bete:

DailyJae, (2011) La Belle et La Bete (online):

The servants arms holding candles with the line, “Once upon a time…”

Bert (2011), La Belle et la Bete (1946) Beauty and the Beast (online):

The servant’s make up blending into the walls-

Mavis, (2010) La belle et la bête (Jean Cocteau, 1946)(online):


Andy (film critic) (2004), Beauty and The Beast (1946) (online): - (accessed on 29/09/11)

Silver Screenings (2007), Review of La Belle et la Bête (online):

Ebert, R (1999), Beauty and the Beast (1946) (online):

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