Josette Day

 

When I first encountered old movies as a boy, I had the hardest time with black and white retellings of stories I knew as fanciful books. The festive season surrounding Alastair Sim always seemed to scream for red and green…the waters surrounding young Jim Hawkins felt like they should be a deep blue. Seeing these movies and reflecting on the way I’d first encountered them as bedtime stories, I colud only imagine them all in colour. My eyes didn’t really process the moodiness and ambiance that blacks, whites, and greys would evoke.

Now though, it’s a whole different story. I’m more open to interpretation, and more interested in adaptation. In growing older, I have gained the childlike ability to “just go with it”. So with that in mind, maybe it’s best that I hadn’t seen Jean Cocteau’s BELLE ET LA BÊTE before now…I was too immature for this particular fairy tale!

There’s obviously not much need to recap the plot of this film considering it’s a tale as old as time (see what I did there?).

This might be one of the most beautifully subdued tellings of the classic fairy tale, and because of that, the theme of trust in a relationship is much more front and centre. A young lass named Belle (Josette Day) loves her father far more than the sorry class of suitors that tend to come calling. With the family in mild financial trouble, the father sets out into the woods to secure some financial holdings, and soon finds himself lost in this enchanted forest. When he happens upon a castle, he lets himself in and caries out a promise to Belle by picking her a rose. This angers the master of the house – The Beast (Jean Marais), who declares that he must now stay as a prisoner. He is permitted to go only if one of his daughters takes his place, which Belle dutifully agrees to do.

Over time, she learns to see beyond exteriors and into the very soul of her captor, eventually falling  in love with The Beast.

 

Beauty & Beast

 

With so much of this story aimed towards children, it’s a little difficult to focus on the adult themes within the classic tale. For me though, much of it came down to the notion of trust. The Beast trusts Belle’s father to send back one of his daughters, and then trusts Belle to make good on that promise and follow the rules of the castle, and ultimately with the key to her freedom. This trusting theme is echoed in the castle’s mirror when it declares “Reflect your heart to me and I will reflect it for you”.

All of these themes touch on the honour and vulnerability that come with true love…much of which can be missing in a modern world. In the 21st century, people are often too selfish to be honourable, and too proud or afraid to be vulnerable. With that, real trust in love becomes quite rare…like the stuff of legend.

However, our story books once taught us that we could trust even a creature that seemed capable of killing us. Perhaps the trick is that the trust was earned; The Beast was frightening, and potentially deadly…but Belle still treated it with the utmost compassion. In a modern setting we have a hard enough time treating other beautiful, friendly human beings with basic decency. Perhaps that’s why love seems so fleeting; we don;t allow ourselves to be trustworthy, meaning those we care about can never put their complete faith in us.

 

 

Archer

 

One amazing thing about watching a film like this nowadays is that one inevitably compares it to the glut of live action fairy tales that we are getting now. In the age of Cocteau, a filmmaker was limited when they wanted to tell a fanciful tale by the laws of optics and physics. There were things that The Brothers Grimm could write that just couldn’t be captured on celluloid…at least, not in a matter befitting the story. Back then, such stories were often better told by animators, since they were limited only by their imaginations and the colours in their paint box.

A seven story dragon is required for the story’s finale? Where would you like it, Uncle Walt.

Now that visual effects have caught up with filmmakers imaginations, the trickery can get much more lavish. Imagery once confined to The Grimms’ imagination and the animators’ pens can now seem as real as the hand in front of your face.

But in comparison to BELLE ET LA BÊTE, the thing that so often seems missing is an attention to mood. When we see Belle wander the corridors of Beast’s castle, there’s a feeling of ethereal dread. The gusts of wind that blow those curtains evoke a thin membrane between the human realm and the magical realm. The arms that hold candelabras and move them ever so slightly when a soul comes near suggest true life in what is usually inanimate. And the howling choirs evoke the eerie sounds of wind passing through these daunting corridors.

Modern live action fairy tales may bring the fantastical to life, but too often they do so while feeling sterile. This film very much brings a terrifying fairy tale alive, and forces us to try that much harder not to turn away in terror. What’s more, it does all of this with a very limited bag of tricks; instead turning its attention to achieving a mood.

 

Dinner for Two

 

As BELLE ET LA BÊTE ended, and our titular characters go flying off towards their happily ever after, I found myself thinking back on its beginning. As the film opens, the following statement is given to us by the director;

Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause him shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things.
I ask of you a little of this childlike sympathy

Cocteau seemed to ask of his audiences so that they might see similarities in the tales they imagined in their youth, and what was about to unfurl on-screen before them. In addition, he seemed to be making a pre-emptive plea for audiences to forgive the fact that they would be able to see all the strings in this little puppet show. However, for me, this statement is something I wish would play before all films; fantasies, dramas, science fiction, and comedy.

In our youth we took more enjoyment from the simplest things. It isn’t just maturity and experience that spoils life’s delights for us as we age. It’s also a cynicism, a want to be smarter than what entertains us, and a lack of faith. Cocteau wanted his audiences to approach BELLE ET LA BÊTE with childlike wonder to draw maximum effect and enjoyment from his offering…but I believe we would all draw maximum effect and enjoyment if we approached film with this same childlike wonder.

After all, Sandra Bullock isn’t really floating in space…Smaug isn’t really laying waste to Lake Town…and Dom Toretto isn’t really driving a car out of the nose of a plane…

…but those moments are so much more enjoyable if we believe them.

 

BSS

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.

 

Here’s the round-up for August so far…

 

Honorary members Adam and Josh of Filmspotting got in on the action this month with an episode dedicated to DOCTOR ZHIVAGO 

Rebecca watched RAISE THE RED LANTERN

James watched WALL-E

Beatrice watched PRINCESS MONONOKE

Courtney Small watched RIFIFI

Keisha watched THE MATRIX

Josh watched BROKEN BLOSSOMS

Dan Bayer watched THE FRENCH CONNECTION

Dell also watched THE FRENCH CONNECTION

Katie watched CHINATOWN

Anna watched JACOB’S LADDER

Jay watched JFK

Brittani watched MULHOLLAND DRIVE

Sean Kelly watched WHALE RIDER

Paskalis watched THE GAME

Kevin watched 3 WOMEN

Rich Watson watched LAWRENCE OF ARABIA