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La Belle et la Bête

D: Jean Cocteau C: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parely

In 1996 the memory of Walt Disney once again was desecrated by his money-grabbing heirs, the result being THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, another animated musical without animation or music. Of course, it had nothing whatsoever to do with Hugo’s NOTRE DAME DE PARIS, being a mere stencil of the 1939 movie. In the case of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991) the movie being ripped off was Jean Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE (1946). Universally hailed as a masterpiece, its production values certainly are impeccable. Unfortunately, it’s not so much a fairy tale as a nightmare, less a magical kingdom than a mausoleum. The curse is never lifted. Everything in the magic castle of the Beast is supposed to be alive, but in fact everything is dead. Its dismembered familiars are prisoners, so are Beauty and the Beast, and so are we, the audience, captivated, but not in any way that is in any way delightful, with no release except for the end titles, and no elation. Beauty doesn’t get the Beast. She gets her childhood sweetheart, with a tired smile. The whole purpose of the timeless fable of mortal woman surrendering to the divine male is thus irretrievably lost. Made among the wreckage of a world war, this is perhaps understandable. There is, however, a far simpler explanation. LA BELLE ET LA BETE was never about beasts or beauties, gods and monsters. It’s a director’s tribute to his leading man, who was also his lover at the time. Belle merely gets in the way, not of the beauty of the film, but of the point of the story. So perhaps it was only fitting that it should be remade in the name of a man, who once confessed that he loved a mouse more than any woman that he had ever known.

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