Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bete) (review)

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Jean Cocteau’s classic 1946 fantasy is back in a stunning restored print, complete with a new digital soundtrack, that deserves to be seen by every fan of beautiful film — a chance to drink in the gorgeous, silvery black-and-white cinematography is reason enough not to miss this. The clear and direct inspiration for Disney’s 1991 animated musical, Cocteau’s version is lushly, deliciously frightful, embellishing the basic fairy tale with a surreal, delicate eroticism of spying mirrors; of a magic castle with seeming peeping-tom eyes, all the better to satisfy one’s every whim; of a beast as gentle and amorous as he is unwillingly corrupt. Josette Day’s Beauty is a steely flower, shy and gentle but willful and hardy enough to replace her father (Marcel André) as the Beast’s prisoner after he trespasses on the Beast’s domain. The Beast (Jean Marais, in one of multiple roles) falls in love with her, as his bewitched castle seems to do as well, bending itself to her will. In the end, Cocteau’s magical reverie of exquisite dread, ethereal grace, and passionate splendor turns out to be a marvelous triumph of the heart over the mind, as Beauty learns to see the creature worth loving within the Beast and we see the greater magic in such a covenant.

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