Jean Cocteau. La Belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast). 1946

Jean Cocteau La Belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast) 1946

  • Not on view

Over fifteen years separate the making of Jean Cocteau's first film, Le Sang d'un poète (1930), and his second, La Belle et la bête, yet the poetic sensibility and Surrealist imagery that animated the former is still evident in the latter, though now in the service of a more traditional narrative. Never one for filming his fantasies in soft focus, Cocteau understood that only clean, unadorned photography could properly convey the sense of mystery he was after, making the on–screen world that much more immediate and believable. Beauty's home is lit and photographed as though it were a Vermeer painting, and the Beast's castle, although filled with living sculpture and darkened hallways, is presented just as naturalistically. In an inspired twist on conventional storytelling, Cocteau makes the viewer long for the return of the Beast. Again, he accomplished this feat through lenses and lighting: "I persuaded my cameraman [Henri] Alekan to shoot Jean Marais, as the Prince, in as saccharine a style as possible. The trick worked. When the picture was released, letters poured in from matrons, teenage girls and children, complaining to me and Marais about the transformation. They mourned the disappearance of the Beast—the same Beast who terrified them so at the time when Madame Leprince de Beaumont wrote the tale."

Publication excerpt from In Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of the Museum of Modern Art by Steven Higgins, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006, p. 202.
35mm film (black and white, sound)
93 min.
Purchase from Janus Films
Object number
© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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