Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" is one of the most magical adaptations of a fairy tale ever put on film. Josette Day plays Belle, a young Frenchwoman who is held captive by a Beast (Jean Marais) in his castle as punishment after her father plucks a rose from his garden. The Beast falls in love with Belle and proposes to her every day, and while she always refuses,she gradually grows more and more fond of the Beast.
The lavish costumes and sets for the film were inspired by eighteenth century illustrations, and they contribute to the mystical and moody atmosphere of the story. There are also some wonderful special effects achieved by camera tricks, and Marais' Beast makeup is particularly elaborate. Marais, who also plays Belle's suitor Avenant, conveys the Beast's emotions from beneath all the makeup quite effectively, so much so that many viewers find him more charming in the form of the monster than not.
Cocteau was replaced by director Rene Clement for a time, as he became severely ill during filming, but his influence on the film was not affected by this. His connection to the story is especially apparent in a brief opening scrawl directly after the credits, in which he addresses the audience directly and asks them to display a little "childlike sympathy".
Incidentally, Phillip Glass composed an entire opera synchronized to this film, with the intention of it being performed with the movie projected in the background. This version of the film, without the original score, can be viewed on YouTube, and is also included on the film's Criterion DVD.
"La belle et la bete" is currently streaming on Hulu Plus as part of the Criterion Collection.
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