Saturday, 7 November 2015

Space Oddities: La Belle et la Bête (1946) film review

La Belle et la Bête, Director: Jean Cocteau (1946)

This review will cover the impact of the set design to contemporary films and audiences. As the director, Jean Cocteau uses the genre of the film as a fantasy fairy tale to influence his set design. The themes of the film that are left in the symbolisation as characters visit the Beast’s castle become prominent as this is where the film becomes focused on this element. It is set in the 16th century, however the castle designs are far more abstract and juxtaposing to the more realistic depictions of forest are villages with a mystical tone. It was a concept by Christian Bérard who was a fashion illustrator for Coco Chanel and Nina Ricci and was brought in to be the films’ production designer. Minimalistic darkness interspersed with arms holding candle sticks give the film a memorable aestheticism without having to have a large budget or expensively designed set. In this comparison of La Belle et la Bête to the 1991 animated adaptation Beauty and the Beast by the Disney production company, Eric D. Snider of the film blog website, who has said that “Cocteau was part of the avant-garde movement that also loosely included the Dadaists and Surrealists,” and talking over what it influenced for design in the Disney adaption and for other cinema, he went on “They [Disney] took Cocteau’s idea of talking doors and food that magically serves itself a step further, giving the sentient inanimate objects actual voices and personalities. In Cocteau’s version, the hallways are lined with candles held by human arms coming out of the walls; rather eerily, details like that are never explained… you can also see Cocteau’s whimsical, imaginative visual style reflected in the films of Tim Burton, Michel Gondry, and Terry Gilliam”. (Snider, 2011)

As a poet and a painter himself, a thought about Cocteau by audiences and reviewers is that in his direction, he wanted to bring greater impact of moods and a feeling of dissatisfaction after the end of World War 2, which brought a difficultly to filming as well. In film critic Roger Ebert’s Review of the film on his website, he writes “Cocteau, a poet and surrealist, was not making a "children's film" but was adapting a classic French tale that he felt had a special message after the suffering of World War II: Anyone who has an unhappy childhood may grow up to be a Beast.” (Ebert, 1999) The film lingers on feelings of dissatisfaction and even after a happy conclusion there is still lingering discontentment. At the end of the film, the Beast is transformed back into the archetypal ‘Prince Charming’ character, and Belle appears to be left slightly dissatisfied by this, as an ordinary fairy tale ending. As Michelle Aldredge of Gwarlingo, an online journal or creative media says, “Cocteau implores his audience to suspend disbelief—to watch the film as a child would. Just as the opening credits on the chalkboard are erased, and the shot of the erasable clapperboard stopped, the filmmaker asks us to erase our preconceptions and expectations.” (Aldredge, 2012)

The film is notable for using camera tricks and stylistic choices prevalent in cinema before computer effects were used in modern filmmaking. Aldredge also describes the effects that Cocteau and the film’s cinematographer Henri Alekan used, including “reverse and slow-motion shots, mirrors, and other camera tricks to striking effect. Cocteau’s decision to keep the camera still was against the prevailing fashion of the time. According to Cocteau’s diary, this was a source of some friction with Alekan.” (Aldredge, 2012) The surreal imagery of the film influenced the 1991 animated adaption for the anthropomorphic servants of the enchanted castle and the film is still hailed for its heavy poetic style, notably by Ebert himself, who described it as “one of the most magical of all films”, according Snider’s review.



Snider, E.D.
What’s the Big Deal?: Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Ebert, R.
Beauty and the Beast Review

Aldredge, M.
Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast: More Than Meets the Eye


Film Poster
La Belle et la Bête

Fig 1
La Belle et la Bête film still

Fig 2
La Belle et la Bête film still [Accessed on 07/11/15]

Fig 3
La Belle et la Bête film still [Accessed on 07/11/15]

1 comment:

  1. Another nicely written review Zoe :)

    Just have another quick look at the referencing guide to make sure that your bibliography and image lists are formatted correctly...