La Belle et La Bête – 1946

belleOpening the London Film Festival from my point of view is a newly-restored version of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et La Bête. Of course, the story has been around for much longer but this film was the first, and continues to be considered the best attempt at rendering the story in celluloid.

Cocteau literally tells the audience to suspend their cynicism and disbelief from the word go. This is a surprisingly effective attack. Even I, with my determination to critically view cinema found myself charmed into just letting that go and enjoying the magic. And magic it was. The film is a picture-perfect fairytale, with smatterings of Cinderella and a comforting resemblance to the Disney Beauty and the Beast (which, I soon realised had paid homage outright stolen many elements of this film, including an entire character). I felt truly transported back to a childish perspective. The archetypes are like every Grimm and Anderson tale I was ever read and so the film, despite being unnerving in places, is overwhelmingly relaxing and nostalgic.

The script lacks nothing in terms of wit and irony, in places being genuinely laugh-out-loud funny in its characterisation. This is only added to by the dead-pan mise-en-scène, even the most ridiculous scenes and characters are shot in still camera as if nothing more unusual was happening than some drizzle. The special effects are further evidence that the French film industry really did just decide to ignore that there ever was a war on and continue on its merry way. People float through corridors, statues move and people fly. It’s a crash course in the dramatic potential of black and white cinema. I imagine that the sense of wonder one feels watching this film has not been at all diminished in the last 60 odd years.

  • Entertainment: 4/5
  • Artistic:             4/5
  • Intellectual:      3/5

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