Beauty and the Beast (DVD, 2008, Criterion Collection Essential Art House Edition) Reviews

Beauty and the Beast (DVD, 2008, Criterion Collection Essential Art House Edition)

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La Belle et la BÍte

Jul 16, 2012 (Updated Oct 1, 2013)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
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Pros:Where Disney got his idea for animated furniture.

Cons:Sartorial mixed bag.

The Bottom Line: Period retelling of an ancient myth/fairy tale.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.


Director Jean Cocteau's hand writes the opening credits on a blackboard, erases them, and then writes more, alternating with other credits floating into place. "I ask of you a little … child­like sim­plic­ity," he says before pro­ceeding with his showing of “Beauty and the Beast.” The story itself started out in Greek myth­ology involving Aphrodite and her son Eros whom out of jealousy she wanted to separate from competing Psyche so she turned him into the form of a snake to sacri­fice Psyche to, but when Psyche doesn't kill the snake it turns back into the beauti­ful boy and the ruse of Aphrodite is exposed. In retelling after retelling over a couple millennia it changed into various fairy tales to suit the audience's needs, the beast taking on differing forms as well, until in 1757 an English governess Mme Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beau­mont wrote down her version of Beauty and the Beast that she'd taught her charges with the evident pur­pose of ac­cul­tur­ating young adoles­cent girls into marrying older men.

Our 1946 French “La Belle et la Bête” is a remake of Mme de Beaumont's version, here starting with a hooligan Avenant (Jean Marais) shooting a (phallic?) arrow into the chamber of Belle (La Beauty) where she is toiling Cinder­ella-like to please her no-account sisters Félicie (Mila Parély) and Adélaïde (Nane Germon), and it will end with an arrow in Diana's Pavilion after Belle has gone through a matur­ation pro­cess. If you want to make the Freudian and/or mytho­log­ical con­nec­tions to modern love life, by all means be my guest, but for serious application I recommend the fairy tale Blue­beard as incorporated into The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love by Paul Dobransky, M.D.

Once upon a time,”

Cocteau pointedly starts “La Beast”, “Il était une fois,” setting it in a nonspecific time but producing it at a particular point in history, 1946, as the first major French motion picture after World War II. There are no war scenes in this picture but the con­tent can­not help but cor­res­pond to inner feelings of a people who had just endured a war. The Beast being noble of character but feeling shame when it has to kill what gets et (“the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays”) represents the fighting men in a just war who never­the­less regret killing their enemy. Their longing for purity manifests itself in the Beast's desire to marry Belle (La Beauty) (“Serez vous ma femme?”) who is in­cor­rup­tible.

Belle's father (Marcel André) represents Jewry in its declining fortunes under Hitler. First, there was the old man's business catastrophe vis-à-vis the Jews' economic dis­en­fran­chise­ment, then came his being lost in the foggy wood at night as were the Jews stuck not being able to emigrate­—South Africa was one of the few countries that would take them­—, and finally, his death sentence for plucking a beauti­ful rose for Belle, as was a pogrom in­sti­tuted against a chosen people. The only thing that could save him was Belle's minis­tration to the Beast (“Voulez vous être ma femme?”) as a dutiful civilian population supported its troops.

Belle's no-good brother Ludovic (Michel Auclair), sisters, and admirer would represent the compromisers and corroborators for whom there was no love lost from the gods. The Beast's palatial mansion filled with dis­em­bod­ied human arms doing their thing would represent a world at war armed to the teeth. The end of the story would be when our brave soldiers perish as the Beast is finished, OR the war being finished ending their “finest hour” (Churchill), as they rise above it all in peace­—“Give me back my Beast” (Greta Garbo).

I don't see how “Beauty and the Beast” could have failed to strike such a chord, coming at the moment it did, but such a story lends itself to mult­iple inter­pret­ations that you should feel free to dis­cover for your­self. The virtue of this par­tic­ular Belle is prob­ably best described in (Matt. 5:5), “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”

Production values

Cocteau was a Renaissance man dabbling in a breadth of art displayed in “La Beast” but it doesn't rise to the level of a master­piece even though some of his tableaus represent famous paintings­—the council around the table looks like Vermeer's “The Anatomy Lesson,” et cetera. He deliberately tried to subvert a standard fairy tale form resulting in a subtly skewed take that will sur­prise the viewer unless he places it right back in its context of the end of WW2, and then it seems more natural. The Criterion Collection has an operatic version by Philip Glass syncing its lines with the stan­dard ones, but the music gives it a different dimen­sion­—there are two sets of sub­titles to choose from. Walt Disney this is not.

The costumes are supposed to represent the 17th century, but the father dresses like the Pilgrims depicted in 19th century duds, while the Beast wears some kind of Eliza­bethan zoot suit, and in one shot a boy on the fringes is seen (for a few seconds) wearing modern style short pants. La Bête spent five hours a day prep­ping in make­up and he still looked ugly.

Cocteau has a habit of using his intimate Jean Marais for major roles, whose acting is wooden; this he does here. Josette Day is a beauty who holds her own as Belle but we're so used to seeing other kinds of feminine ideals that her meekness may be under­appreciated.

The pacing and editing all looked fine, and shot in black and white it looks artistic.


I was thumbing through a book of Dear Abby letters when I came across one from a newlywed woman seeking Abby's advice about her husband whose chin grows hair every night, which he then has to shave off every morning. I suppose in the days before we had news­paper advice columns, we had to derive our education from other sources like fairy tales. Different people learn in different ways, and there must be child­ren­—and child­like adults­—who can appreciate these things, even on the big screen.

Recommend this product? Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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