A beaut of a Beast
LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE Directed by Jean Cocteau. Starring Josette Day, Jean Marais, Mila Parély, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair
PG cert Few DVD distributors produce packages as attractive and useful as those assembled by the British Film Institute. The organisation delivers yet another essential purchase with this digitally restored version of the first full-length feature by uncategorisable French polymath Jean Cocteau.
In an upcoming book on 1,000 notable films, David Thomson, the distinguished English critic, argues strongly for La Belle et la Bête, first released in 1946, to be considered as a film for children. That makes sense.
After all, Disney eventually produced its own adaptation of this story of a young woman’s relationship with a besotted ogre and, though notably less glossy than that animated version, Cocteau’s film still displays its roots in a traditional fairy tale.
Still, there is something insidiously disconcerting about The Beast’s hairy longings and Belle’s eventual compliance. Maybe, we suspect, the hidden message has less to do with overcoming initial prejudice than with acknowledging certain deeply buried, unmentionable desires. At any rate, the disc comes with a reliably fascinating commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling and a fine essay by fellow writer Marina Warner.