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Mention “Beauty and the Beast” to anyone and, as likely as not, he or she will conjure up images of Disney’s 1991 musical animation. Controversially, perhaps, I feel that that film pales in comparison to Jean Cocteau’s French live-action film of half a century before, La belle et la bête.
For the few who are unfamiliar with the fairy-tale (originally published in 1757 by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont), the story tells of a beautiful young girl called “Belle” who is drawn to “Beast”, an elusive and seemingly repellent monster. The tale encompasses themes of tragedy, love, beauty, and death.
While it is easy for us modern filmgoers, attuned to computerised special effects and 3D-technology, to scoff at the rather primitive workings of Cocteau’s film, they are, nevertheless, beautiful. Paradoxically, there is a richness and clarity to black-and-white film that is not always replicated in colour. Beast’s outfits are inspired, and there is something magical about the moving ornaments within Beast’s castle. Cue, for example, the stone hands grasping candles, which move and guide Belle, the visitor, through the darkness of the corridors.
The film has rightly gone down as a classic of French cinema, and it remains to be seen whether this film will artistically supersede the live-action Disney reimagining of Beauty and the Beast which is due to be released later this year. If you’re a purist, I imagine it’s a safe bet; it will take a lot to surpass Cocteau’s magnificent film.
Written by Matthew Bruce
Image copyright: Descina
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham