Poet of the French cinema Jean Cocteau transforms fantasy into reality in this exquisite adaptation of Mme. Marie Leprince de Beaumont's fairy tale. Breathtaking imagery draws viewers into the enchanted realm of the magnificent beast and the gentle beauty who discovers the sensitive soul hidden beneath his monstrous exterior. Cocteau invites us to suspend disbelief as we enter an amazing world where a splendid white horse has magical powers, candelabra have human arms, and tears turn to diamonds. Superbly photographed by Henri Alekan (Wings of Desire
), and enhanced by Christian Berards' surreal sets, Georges Auric's score, and the flawless performances of Jean Marais and Josette Day, Beauty and the Beast
is Cocteau's personal statement on the power of love.
This is definitely not the Disney version. While it remains faithful to the plot of the classic fairy tale by Leprince de Beaumont, Jean Cocteau's 1946 French romantic fantasy is the product of a sophisticated, mature sensibility in its tones and textures and, above all, in its surprising emotional power. With sparkling black-and-white imagery that, for once, is actually dreamlike rather than cute or kitschy, and with a Beast (Jean Marais) who is almost as glamorous with his silky blonde facial hair as he is clean shaven, the movie casts a seductive spell. It might actually be a little too rich and unsettling for kids. Even the costumes and the draperies are entrancingly ornate. Viewers intoxicated by this enveloping vision should consider moving on to Cocteau's even more aggressively other-worldly 1949 masterpiece Orpheus
, in which Marais plays the doomed poet of ancient Greek legend, updated to a Parisian "punk" milieu of motorcycles and black leather. --David Chute