Since Beastly, based on Alex Flinn's book, is coming out this Friday, I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the previous incarnations of Beauty and the Beast in cinema, starting with Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête.
First of all let me say: this is a beautiful piece of cinematography, and if you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?
We meet Belle with some Cinderella-esque sisters, complaining and leaving Belle to do all the housework after their father's financial misfortunes leave the family in difficulty. Belle has a persistent suitor, Avenant, but she's not interested because she doesn't feel she can leave her father. Of course, as we all know the story, when it turns out that she must leave him to save his life, she does, going to live with the Beast in his enchanted castle. They don't really... fall in love, they just spend a lot of time together, have some strange smoky encounters, and when she goes home and sees him dying in the mirror, she realizes she loves him.
Now, I have to take it somewhat with a grain of salt, based on what it was made. I don't think there's any way this screenplay would have gotten greenlighted in today's movie-making world. (I could be wrong...) There are bits of the story that don't really seem to fit into anything, like the Beast's smoking hands (it's unclear if this is because he feels guilty about killing, or if it's part of the magic powers he has).
Aside from some minor confusion, though, the story is familiar, and as I said, the film itself is just beautiful, full of rich costumes, delightfully archaic special effects, and the written plea at the beginning to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the magic.