Tuesday, August 17, 2010

La belle et la bête (1946)

Beauty and The Beast is one of famous children's stories that most of us must have read or heard. When I was young, I read this, too - although I cannot remember where, as a short story in a children's magazine or in a treasure of children's story book. I remember Beauty (or Belle or Bella) has 2 wicked sisters and when their father is to go on a trip, while the sisters ask him to bring home expensive things, all Beauty wants is a rose. When the Disney version came up in 1991, the story was changed here and there. Belle is a bookworm, the single daughter of a nerd. I accepted the Disney version and enjoyed the movie. Yesterday I finally watched this 1946 version by Jean Cocteau. I was not sure at first, because the Disney version was so magical with its singing teapot and other magical furnitures, and how this version from 1 year after WW2 could be, at least, equal?

However I was wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this b/w version. It took me back to the story I read in my childhood - to Belle's two wicked sisters. I had a surprised, though, because Belle also has a brother and this brother has a friend, who loves Belle. This movie was based on the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, which I had never read - I guess the version I read years ago had been simplified or taken from a different source. In the movie, there is a foreword which I thought funny: the moral of the story is that plucking a rose from someone else's garden can cause a family conflict.

Comparing to Disney's magical set with the help of modern technique, this 1946 version is also surprisingly magical. It's like a stage set, I think, with real people's head on top of pedestals or real hands carrying candlestick holders; but they did what they could with what they had and I raised 2 thumbs for them. Jean Marais, who I read was Cocteau's lover, was great as The Beast. His agony in being ugly is portrayed as well as his gentleness towards The Beauty. Sometimes he acts like a common beast, but sometimes Belle can see that part of him is noble. The Beast is a gentleman, who always keeps his words, and it's obvious how he loves Belle. On the other hand, we see Belle's 2 beautiful sisters and her brother and his friend who are handsome, but inside their hearts, there is the real ugliness. When Belle's 2 sisters look into the magic mirror, they can only see an old woman and a monkey.

I was rather disappointed when The Beast turned into a human. He looks like her brother's friend, both being played by Jean Marais. I like Jean Marais as a swashbuckler, but as a dream prince: no. This is only my personal opinion, of course. I guess for Jean Cocteau he was perfect for everything. The last scene where The Prince and The Beauty fly to the sky is wonderful - it reminds me to the last scene in Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959).

1 comment:

The Lady Eve said...

I had the same reaction when I first saw Cocteau's "La belle et la bete" many years ago - I preferred the beast to the prince. Legend has it that when Marlene Dietrich attended the film's first screening at a studio in Paris she accompanied Cocteau. When the film ended she was disappointed at the transformation from beast to prince and exclaimed in dismay, "Where is my beautiful beast?"