Beauty and the Beast ★★★★

A film that grows more enrapturing in the mind than it could ever be on screen -- looking back on it, you wonder how many of its scenes (the introductions of the castle, the flying, the particularly drunken wanderings of the characters) could really exist as tangible pieces of film; at times it's among the most intoxicating of all narrative films, but it plays its fanciful cards sparingly -- an intention indicated by its explicit announcement in the opening sequence that we are about to be participants in a fairy tale. Because this is Cocteau's most famous film, one thing you tend to miss the first time you see it is how logically it carries forward from the techniques established in the surrealist Blood of a Poet, a much less conventional film that explores audacious techniques placed in service of a hauntingly beautiful story here. The only objection to any of this is how hackneyed and rushed the establishment of a connection between Belle and the Beast actually is, a problem carried through every version of this that I have seen in any medium (though this is the only variation I'm aware of that really achieves any sensuality in their relationship); in this version Belle is never given enough agency for her increasing love to carry much weight, though her mild disappointment with his appearance at the finale is and will always be a treat, and a delightful stroke of attitude so contemporarily smart-alecky you can't believe it comes from a 1946 feature. The indelible final shot is the most elegant possible rebuke to every advancement in visual effects technology made in the last seventy-odd years.

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