Fairy tales have been dazzling young children for centuries. They relish in the imaginative worlds conveyed in these creations during storytime at school as well as prior to drifting asleep. Beneath the exterior fantasy of these narratives are themes relevant in the day-to-day lives of adults – jealousy, betrayal, and conflict. Children are subliminally exposed to these truths through these elaborate plots only to realize as adults the harsh actualities of the stories. “La Belle et la Bete” (1946) is one such tale, magnificently directed by Jean Cocteau in movie format while Nazis occupied Paris.
Belle (Josette Day) and her family are in extreme debt. After travelling to a nearby town with failed hopes of inheriting a fortune, her dearly loved father (Marcel Andre) stumbles upon obtaining a rose for Belle as per her request. This leads him into an inconceivably beautiful garden and castle, where inanimate objects are anything but. He also meets the Beast (Jean Marais) who condemns him to death for picking a highly coveted rose, but his death will be absconded if a daughter can go in his place. Belle takes this role without hesitation, and her journey into the Beast’s world begin. Enmeshment, anger, disgust, and questions of possession unravel as their relationship develops with familial worries and conflict playing a major role in Belle’s future.
The title of the film can have a multitude of interpretations relevant to the fairy tale as well as means by which this film came to fruition. All individuals have positive and negative qualities, with some outshining others as integral components of our personality and coping strategies. While Belle copes with poverty through selflessness, her sisters Adelaide (Nane Germon) and Felicie (Mila Parely) adapt through selfishness and manipulation, especially towards Belle. The Beast grows to love Belle and cannot imagine a life without her, but excessively dominates her freedom. Thus, themes of jealousy, guilt, oppression, trust, and revenge all emerge from a story “most appropriate for children”. The medium of this particular film expresses these themes with the aid of careful and innovative editing and set design. Extravagant budgets and sets were not possible in this war-torn area of Europe, and thus a claustrophobic yet mystical aura materializes from the direction. Thus, there is a simultaneous “beauty” and “beast” in all individuals and in circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I do not own the above image.