Genre: Fantasy Romance
Director: Jean Cocteau
Starring: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Marcel André
Duration: 93 min.
When a merchant is told that he must die for picking a rose from the Beast's garden, his courageous daughter offers to go back to the Beast in her father's place. The Beast falls in love with her and proposes marriage on a nightly basis; she refuses, having pledged her troth to a handsome prince. Eventually, however, she is drawn to the repellent but strangely fascinating Beast, who tests her fidelity by giving her a key, telling her that if she doesn't return it to him by a specific time, he will die of grief.
Beauty and the Beast is a French film directed by Jean Cocteau, an adaptation of the classic fairy tale written by Jeanne-Marie Laprince de Beaumont and first published in 1757. It was recently reissued by The Criterion Collection on Blu-Ray.
Often hailed as one of the most beautiful films ever made, this is a fine example of cinematic magic used to its full potential. A fairy tale brought alive on screen with the simplest of techniques yet full of wonder and enchantment. The elegant costumes, elaborate set design, and especially the astounding make-up of The Beast (Jean Marais) which might be subject to ridicule by today's audiences accustomed to seeing modern special effects, were remarkable achievements for its time.
Cocteau creates a world filled with symbolism and a total dreamlike atmosphere. The Beast's grand castle is a surreal and magical realm. Disembodied human arms protrude from walls and tables, holding candelabras and pouring wine. Faces of statues are alive, some exhaling smoke, and their eyes eerily follow those who walk by. Doors open and close on their own seemingly controlled by silent and invisible servants. The most amazing shot of all is Belle's (Josette Day) ethereal first entrance into the castle. Where she glides effortlessly in slow motion down hallways and seems to float up a flight of stairs.
The story, like all fantasy is one that indeed requires a childlike innocence or a large suspension of disbelief but is handled maturely and doesn't ever feel like watching a children's film. The Criterion restoration while not perfect, looks quite good for its age and includes a wonderful alternate operatic soundtrack composed by Phillip Glass that really fits the film's overall mood. For those not turned off by the age, subtitles, or the minor visual aberrations, this is a perfect escape movie.
— Bonjour Tristesse