La Belle et la Bete (1946)
Directed by Jean Cocteau
Who’s in it? Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parely
What’s it about? The classic tale of a young girl taken prisoner by a pitiless beast when she sacrifices herself to save her father, is a universal story about recognising the beauty, and struggling against the beast, within. Better known to the world as the critically acclaimed and technically groundbreaking 1991 Disney musical Beauty and the Beast, Jean Cocteau’s take on what Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) called “the most perfect cinematic fable ever told” is a captivating study in the ‘realism of the unreal’. The Les Enfants Terribles director delves deep into the haunting reality of the beautiful and the beastly within every human heart, the capacity for good and for evil we all posses and the choices which form our character and reveal our true personality.
Memorable Moments? The immortal shot of the beast lingering with intent over the sleeping beauty, an iconic image in 20th century cinema, is an enchanting reminder of the susceptibility of the human condition to the promptings of fear and desire, symbolising the film’s enduring power as an allegory for the duality of man.
Look who’s talking: ‘With its magical optical effects and enchanting performances, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast remains the most surreal — and soulful — of the fairy tale’s film adaptations.’ – Rotten Tomatoes
Like that? try this: The Hunchback of Notredame (1939), based on Victor Hugo’s novel and starring Charles Laughton as the socially outcast bell-ringer who falls for Maureen O’Hara’s vulnerable and alluring Esmerelda, like La Belle et La Bete, is an undisputed classic taking many forms on stage and screen over the years, including a Disney adaptation which gave a timeless tale a bold dash of colour and a young new audience.
Trivia Pursuit: In production just after WWII, the crew were at one point working by candlelight due to an electricity shortage.
Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity.