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Beauty and the Beast Movie Review

cocteau jean film andre

1946 – Jean Cocteau –

Diary of a Film, the book that director Jean Cocteau wrote about the making of Beauty and the Beast, describes the string of problems that beset the production, ranging from the difficulty of finding high-grade film stock, reliable equipment, and electrical sources in postwar France to the freak injuries and illnesses that befell the cast and director. More relevant to the look of the finished film is his remark about the visual poetry he sought to create in his version of the familiar fairy tale. Cocteau felt that out-of-focus camera effects failed to achieve the poetic and preferred a sharper use of detail: “In my eyes poetry is precision, numbers. I'm pushing [cinematographer] Alekan in precisely the opposite direction from what fools think is poetic.” As a result, this film, Cocteau's second effort as a director, is more grounded in the everyday and less surreal than the style of his first, The Blood of a Poet.

The mix of fantasy and realism works brilliantly. Love's power to transform has rarely been expressed with such force. Beauty (Josette Day) rides on the majestic white horse Magnifique to the grounds of the Beast (Jean Marais) to pay the debt owed by her father (Marcel Andre). Rather than take her life, however, the Beast is slowly ennobled by her beauty. He comes to her each evening as she dines and asks her to marry him. Eventually, her father's illness makes her promise the Beast that she will return if he permits her to visit her family once more. The Beast then reveals to Beauty some of the secrets of his magic and entrusts her with the key to Diana's Pavilion, the source of his treasures. He tells her that he will die if she fails to keep her word. Her return is momentarily delayed by the greed of her sisters, who covet her beautiful necklace (which turns to dry sticks when the sisters hold it and then back again to pearls when Beauty takes it). Though the sisters steal the key to Diana's Pavilion, Beauty eventually returns and attempts to restore the dying Beast.

Cocteau's imagination thrives on the magical element of the fairy tale. When Beauty enters the main hallway, the candles, held by naked arms that extend from both walls, magically flare to life; sometimes these human sconces release their hovering candelabra to point the visitor to the Beast's quarters. When Beauty prepares to return home, the Beast instructs her in the use of his magic glove, which allows her to appear in her own room by materializing through a wall. In her later scene with her father, when Beauty cries her tears turn to diamonds as they trickle down her cheeks. Such an imaginative presentation gives the film its charming tone and keeps the viewer alert for the next instance of screen magic.

Cast: Jean Marais (Avenant/the Beast/the Prince), Josette Day (Beauty), Marcel Andre (the merchant), Mila Parely (Adelaide), Nane Germon (Felice), Michael Auclair (Ludovic) Screenwriter: Jean Cocteau Cinematographer: Henri Alekan Composer: Georges Auric Producer: Andre Paulve Running Time: 95 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD.

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