New movies for me
The one previous time I tried to watch Jean Cocteau's rendition of Beauty and the Beast, I had failed to complete it because I had mistakenly switched the soundtrack to Philip Glass' opera, instead of the original dialog and soundtrack, and the person who I was watching it with got horribly distracted in the process. However, I admit that I was still quite mesmerized myself with the visuals, at insomuch as I'd seen, so given an opportunity to revisit this film on Blu Ray, from Criterion, I had to watch it. However, despite the lofty status this film has with cinephiles, I found it just a touch lacking in the story department, even as the visuals were captivating.
The story is one that should be somewhat familiar to many: Belle's father (Marcel André) gets caught by the Beast (Jean Marais) when he plucks a rose from the Beast's garden while on his way home from losing his fortune. He is given a reprieve from death to see if a daughter of his would take his place and Belle (Josette Day), the faithful daughter takes his place. The Beast fancies her and awkwardly courts her and Belle deepens in her feelings for the Beast, but his devotion to her sick father draws her away. Amidst this, her scoundrel brother, Ludovic (Michel Auclair), wicked sisters, Félicie (Mila Parély) and Adélaïde (Nane Germon) and scoundrel suitor, Avenant (also Jean Marais) develop some jealousy and hatch a plan to make the Beast's riches theirs.
It's a simple story, but I feel like it reserves too much for surprise, like the Beast's origins and his intentions, which both come about as a bit of a surprise and don't add anything positive at the point where they are revealed. Furthermore, the way it's revealed creates a feasible alternate interpretation of the story where Avenant was right and the Beast is actually a beguiling, deceptive and manipulative schemer that's looking for a naive sucker like Beauty to free himself of his curse. Finally, I largely don't buy Belle and the Beast's romance--her affection doesn't seem earned, leading me towards my alternate interpretation of the story, especially considering how much beautiful treasure is lavished upon the title characters and how it contradicts with the theoretical message of looking beyond the surface (and I even question if that message is really in this film) of the story.
On the other hand, the visuals remain just as exquisite as I remember them. Some of this opulent visual exploration is admittedly at the cost of story pacing and the film does lag here and there, especially at the top of the film, before the film picks up its plot. However, the images are enthralling enough that I can look past that, like the use of disembodied hands, floating candelabras, reverse photography, double exposure and more to create a fantastic and magical atmosphere. And the acting isn't that bad either, especially considering that the actors were often working without lines, but through action and expression and while that might plod the pacing a little, Marais really delivers a lot through the Beast's eyes and almost makes the story believable.
But I don't know if The Beauty and the Beast really succeeds enough for me. And maybe my standards for story are a touch high, but the pacing of the film also lags quite a bit. There is a very enchanting element to the film, in its visuals and even its acting, so in that sense there is some masterful direction going on. And the images in the film certainly are iconic. But I was demonstrably bored during parts of the film when I wasn't enchanted. And the paper thin story doesn't help, especially when it creates internal contradictions and fails to build enough of an emotional foundation that a sinister alternative interpretation could be reasonable assumed from watching. For that, I can't heartily recommend this film, but it is still a fascinating watch for those who love fantasy fairy tales and fans of visual cinema. 7/10.