Beauty and the Beast ★★★★

A fairy tale in every sense, this stunningly beautiful 90-odd-minutes feature from Jean Cocteau has a dreamlike quality about it. It's not just the mist, or the always-watching busts, or the slow-mo, it's in the semi-Bresson-esque eyes of the cast and the half-theatrical manner in which the lines are delivered.

This film is at once self-aware (Cocteau implores us to approach it as a child would, the Beast-turned-Prince hints at Belle's disappointment, shared by the audience) and almost comical (the ridiculously over-the-top assholeishness of Belle's sisters, the eye-roll-worthy squabbles of the boys, the impracticality of sending Belle with the key and her equal stupidity to leave it lying about). The odd tone never feels like it abruptly changes though. Somehow it all fits pretty well here.

The practical effects, though not at all mysterious in terms of how they were achieved, work wonderfully to create mis-en-scene that makes the viewer feel a part of this fairtytale world, and the makeup and costume design of the Beast is equally fantastic. His performance also helps to evade the silliness where necessary so he can lament and plead and grovel and die and actually extract the same empathy we see Belle exhibit.

Though the story is straightforward and well-worn, it varies enough from the version most Americans are familiar with (Disney's) to stay pretty fresh. And anyway, you're not here for the plot.

On that note, the story does kinda fall apart at the end, in a confusing and anti-climactic fashion. But Cocteau's wink at the audience helps somewhat, and one can at least be thankful it doesn't drag.

Certainly more Beauty than Beast, this is perhaps the definitive version of the story and certainly one of the best examples of creating atmosphere to be found in early film.

Chris liked this review