Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

At the end of World War 11, when France was reeling from pain and exhaustion, Jean Marais suggested to Cocteau that a welcome diversion might be a film based on the famous 18th-century fable of Madame Leprince de Beaumont. Cocteau leaped at the idea, since it revived his own childhood fantasies and promised to introduce a new genre: fairy tale on film. La Belle et la Bete, with Josette Day as Beauty and Jean Marais as the Beast, was the first film both written and directed by Cocteau since Le Song d'un Poete. Although superficially different,
the visual metaphors of both works deal with the raw staff of myth - and create an atmosphere of eerie beauty. In La Belle et la Bete Cocteau returned to his familiar stand, showing how hard it is to distinguish reality from fantasy. The film remains faithful in spirit to the 18th-century source, but through his inventions Cocteau made the picture unmistably his own and provided a model for late filmmakers, such as Minnelli, Bergman, and Truffaut. Casting "The Most Beautiful Man in the World" as the Beast who turns into Prince Charming was a real coup de theatre. The candlebra fashioned of living arms and the smoke-breathing caryatids with moving eyes linger long in the mind. Magic talismans - a horse, a glove, a key, enchanted gardens - all abound in the film in satisfying profusion. This iconogaphy, as in many of Cocteau's enigmatic motion pictures, has provoked much learned dispute about its Surrealist, or Jungian, symbolism. For all that, La Belle et la Bete remains a moving children's story (nothing appeals to adults more) told in the language and images of a master of both arts.

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