I happened upon this film accidentally while perusing videos for my Beauty and the Beast presentation for my middle school classes (which resulted in my finding an incredible French singer Indila —–> VIDEO). I was skeptical when I watched its trailer but intrigued enough after several months of debating to give the film a try. I won’t spend my usual amount of time reviewing this film (aka I won’t write a six page essay for you). However, I will do my best to enlighten any who might be interested in this film.
The greatest obstacle it faced were two monstrous predecessors: Jean Cocteau’s 1946 surrealist film and Disney’s 1991 musical. Though I don’t like French Surrealist Film, I do acknowledge the mastery of Cocteau’s 1946 adaption. It was because of this film that future directors remained too scared to adapt Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy tale for almost fifty years. Why? His brilliant use of cinematography (BEFORE computers were used for everything in film) made this film nothing short than a masterpiece. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is one of the greatest masterpieces of animation and storytelling from the heart aching work animators put into its characters to its memorable musical numbers and ending. (I already completed my review of this film. Feel free to look at it. ——> REVIEW) If I didn’t compare this new version to these two films I would be an idiot. This is a test to see if it can stand against these two works of genius.
The film begins with Belle telling her story to two small children from an embossed, leather book. Her father, a wealthy merchant, fell into poverty with his six children after a storm destroyed his ships. Left almost penniless, they retire to the countryside until word reaches them that one of their ships made it back to a port town with all his goods. Excited, he journeys with his eldest son with a long list of goods too bring back for his two elder daughters and Belle’s simple request for a rose. Misfortune rather then luck accompanies him on his journey as he finds that not only is he unable to touch his goods, but also his son owes a young man Perducas a large sum of money. With the help of a bar tender, he flees into the forest and stumbles onto the Beast’s castle. A mysterious host feeds, shelters him and provides all that his daughters asked him, except of course Belle’s rose. When the merchant leaves, he plucks a single red rose from a towering hedge and is attacked by the enraged Beast. As payment for taking his rose, the Beast requests a life for his rose. The father, grief stricken, returns to his children with his news and, overcome with guilt, Belle against her family’s wishes takes her father’s place.
Compared to the original fairy tale and the aforementioned predecessors, this film’s director and co-writer Christophe Gans did a splendid job creating something fresh and new. It’s plot more closely follows Cocteau’s 1946 film, with Belle’s much larger family and background but shies away from following it too closely. The biggest difference was the Beast’s back story. I will not ruin it for you, but suffice it to say that the Beast made a terrible mistake which condemned him to wait for a young maiden’s love at the expense of losing his own dearest love.
The only question that prevailed me the entire story was “Why set up such a tragic back story with an equally twisted resolution?”. The whole time I felt Belle was merely a means to an end, meaning only she had to love him. He could remain ambivalent to her feelings as long as she accepted him. At least, that is how I interpreted it. In fact, by the end I do not know if he really loved her as deeply as his first love, or even at all. Though I applaud Gans for his inventive thinking and outlook on this classic fairy tale, I felt that it overlooked its original intent. When evaluating the 1946 French film I put it thus:
Nonetheless, at its heart, the film managed to retain and even exemplify the essential message of the original fairy-tale: that it is within the soul that beauty is found and true love bypasses physical appearances.
Was that the purpose of this film? I do not think so. I think through its plot Gans really wanted to have Belle accept the Beast for merely his sake. He did not change for her, nor did he emit the gentleness and weakness of the original.
My western history professor once remarked that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast‘s story centered on a phenomenon called Stockholm Syndrome. It basically meant that Belle slowly allowed herself to empasize with her captor Beast and fall into an abusive relationship. In regards to Disney’s film. . . it is a dumb assertion. For THIS movie however I believe it. Here is why. Most of the film seemed to center on sexual/ physical tension between Belle and the Beast NOT love. How else could they explain why she loved him?
PLOT EXECUTION/ SCREENPLAY: 3/5
Though in theory the plot was original, its execution fell flat for me. Despite the fact the film was almost two hours long, it did not adequately convey the original fairy tale’s message and develop a beautiful love story. I could not fathom how Belle fell in love with the Beast. He obviously loved his previous wife more and they did not have nearly enough time together to even develop a healthy relationship. In fact, most of the time I felt that she really should leave him. To put it bluntly, he was brutish and at times too cruel. So much time went into developing Beast’s back story, that Gans and his crew forgot to develop the relationship that WAS important. Plus, the plot turns did not move the story well to important scenes.
One scene in particular bothered me. This happened as Beast ran after Belle over a sheet of ice. He proceeded to yell at her and move in to kiss her while pinning her down. She laid their in a haze of terror, or perhaps primal attraction then. . . the ice broke, she fell down, he grabbed the front of her dress at the top of her corset REALLY slowly, stared at her (for some reason she was unconscious) and then the scene shifted to her bedroom (which used to be his wife’s bedroom. . . yeah) where she lay in a nightdress. I have to wonder who changed her. Anyway. . . right after that happens he gives her leave to visit her family and somehow she feels touched by his sudden kindness. When I watched this I thought. . . huh? I thought he was a perve and she a helpless, idiotic female. Truthfully, it was one of the most beautifully shot, ridiculous scenes I have ever seen.
I had other problems with its execution. There were some scenes that I thought were wholly unnecessary. For example, her walking through the palace while being followed by creepy dogs with big eyes, her teasing her sisters stupidly, and even the whole scene with the medium and the Beast’s former love’s statue. Also, the end battle was uneeded filler. All in all, this movie does not have the makings of a well paced and shot film.
I would not say the characters were copy cut outs. No, that was not the problem. The performances and chemistry of the characters did not work. In fact, I felt completely detached from any of the main characters. Belle did not deliver as either a graceful and kind lady or an intelligent, mature woman. Most of the movie I just felt, “She is here because the plot needs her to be.” She did not leave the confines of her role, but did what was expected of her. She fell in love with the Beast, though I still have no idea HOW that happened, (Cough Stockholm Syndrome) and gallantly rescued him from death. I think it is more the fault of the writers than of the actress Léa Seydoux that Belle was such a bland heroine. Truthfully, this actress did a phenomenal job in this role. It’s just, I hated the role they had her play. In fact, I cared more for the medium Anne’s relationship problems with Perducas than Belle’s. That’s just sad.
Vincent Cassel’s acting as the Beast was also incredible, however his character was altogether unlikable. Even as a human being he acted like a beast, and not in the way Disney’s Prince Adam was. With his physical transformation no one expected him to change. In fact, I do not think he had even considered reforming himself after all those years. When he lived with his former love, he pawed (no pun intended) her and kissed her every chance he got even if he was in front of others. So much for propriety. Then again, this is a French film. . . Anyway, when Belle came along, he probably thought “How convenient, a girl I can use to break my curse”. Yes, Adam did the same thing, BUT he changed and loved Belle for who she was. Heck, he even let her go at his own expense with no intention of making her return, though it broke his heart. He reformed from a spoiled prince into an aspiring king. I cannot say the same for the Beast in this film. Isn’t the point of this character to show that it is through the heart that we should judge others NOT how they look? I will say that I didn’t mind his appearance too much. He looked very regal and cunning like a lion but no where near as well designed as Glen Keane’s Beast.
Some of the other characters were simply unnecessary like the dogs?, the villian? Perducas and even her sisters. I did like her brother Tristan. In fact, he was my favorite character. Part of me wishes that he had been the Beast instead.
One way this film succeeded was through its visual effects. Some of the scenes provided views of forests, others led the audience on a journey through a captivating crumbling castle. Though I found the story unengaging, the cinematography more than made up for it. I think my favorite scenes showed Belle running to three different pooled mirrors and Belle and Beast’s dance (This is not saying it was romantic at ALL. I just liked how it looked). They were just fun to watch. Also, the costume design was outstanding. I loved watching to see what new dress she would come onto screen with and I thought it matched the initial time period very well. Though visually this film remained enchanting throughout, I felt that the CGI was a little overbearing at times. For the most part however, they were beautiful and worth a look see.
The music was incredible. Its writer, Pierre Adenot, enhanced the mysterious atmosphere of Beast’s castle and emphasized traumatic events well without having his music overwhelm the scene in question. Though, for this film that might be altogether impossible given its incredible visuals. My favorite song came at Belle and Beast’s first dinner together. There was something about the sweeping low strings that utterly entranced me. I really like the soundtrack and will probably listen it a lot in the future.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: 3/5
I did not like this film as much as I thought I would. It may seem I am overly critical of it but given its origins I know that I must be. When a story like this is done as many times as it has been, film makers must push the boundaries to exceed expectations. Disney’s 1991 musical and Cocteau’s 1946 film are far superior to Gans attempt. If you want to see this film, I would recommend it for at least the music and cinematography. Anything else, I leave to your interpretation. My heart still belongs to Disney’s animated masterpiece and will most likely stay there indefinitely.
OVERALL SCORE: 3.6/5
Belle: Who does this castle belong to?
The Beast: Everything here belongs to me.
Belle: You talk like any other man. It’s a little disappointing.
(This is the only scene I felt she showed a back bone and fought back against the Beast’s abusive personality).