Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 17 January 2014

La belle et la bete

Finally a look at Jean Cocteau's spellbinding, sensuous classic which may well be the most perfect cinematic fable ever told. Filmed in 1946 in glittering black and white, it tells of a hapless merchant lost in the forest who seeks refuge at the castle of a hideous monster, the Beast, who threatens to kill him unless he sends one of his three daughters to take his place. The nicest daughter, Beauty, agrees to take his place and when the Beast sees her he falls madly in love with her. She is initially repulsed but comes to see the real nature of the Beast .... as played by Jean Marais (Cocteau's lover) the Beast is all repressed lust and melancholy refinement. 

Beauty is no damsel in distress, as she overcomes her fears and explores the fascinating castle, with those hands holding candelabras, living statues, among other supernatural terrors and delights, well done without today's CGI (like those mirrors to the underworld which people walk through in Cocteau's 1950 ORPHEE ...). The beauty and the beast theme is one of the oldest fairy tales, nicely done here. Is Beast unlocking Beauty's supressed desires? Her two sisters are vain, shallow creatures obsessed about money, as is her brother and his friend who plot to kill the beast and take his treasures, while Beauty is allowed a week return to her family as her father is dying. He though makes a recovery as the two men return to the castle to tackle the Beast ....

It turns out of course the Beast is a prince under a spell (Marais again, who also plays the brother Avenant) ... there is a marvellous score by George Auric and it all looks spellbinding. One wishes though that Cocteau had found a more alluring, charismatic Beauty, as Josette Day does not register much now. It must have certainly influenced Demy's similar fairy tale PEAU D'ANE where Catherine Deneuve is dressed rather like Beauty and Marais of course plays her father (Demy label). So, yes another French classic we like a lot. 
I remember being 17 in 1963 when Cocteau and Edith Piaf died the same weekend, and reading about them in the papers, and I later liked ORPHEE a lot; and visited that Pere Lachaise cemetry in Paris several times in the 70s and 80s, seeing their tombs, as well as Oscar Wilde's, Jim Morrison's and so many others .... its an amazing place. 
Now for some more French B-movie thrillers with the likes of Henri Vidal and Robert Hossein ... 

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