Thanks to the Alliance Française French Film Festival I was finally able to see Christophe Gans’ live action adaptation of La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast), last week. (I say ‘finally’ but it was only released last year, so not too long to wait!) It was interesting to see this film not long after the announcement of the Disney live action film. I’m still not sure I’m excited for that one or not – not in the way I’d been excited for this version, at least. Belle is played by Léa Seydoux, who is steadily becoming one of my favourite actresses and la Bête by Vincent Cassiel.
I’ll admit, I’m a very aesthetic person so I’m highly affected by how things look. Luckily film is a visual medium, so I suppose that comes in handy (maybe – I’m not sure if one is really meant to admit to being somewhat of an ‘aesthete’ these days). I also have fairly specific visual styles that I prefer when it comes to cinema, most of which I can’t entirely describe (because I haven’t taken the time to think about it – could be an interesting blog post one day?). I can say that this film fell distinctly into one of them. If it had been less good looking I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much but I can see myself watching this several more times, and drooling over the beautiful visuals again and again. Some of the CGI/effects were a little OTT (but not jarring) and the small creatures I’ve forgot the name of looked a bit too much like the big-eyed TY Beanies for my taste (though Belle’s playful teasing of them was charming). But just so beautiful, overall. I honestly wanted to cry at how beautiful is is (did I mention I’m really affected by the aesthetic qualities of things?)
I wish more movies looked like this (but, then, would it become less exciting?). Not Surreal, because that word is always misused. It was more than reality. Hyperreal. But still a little bit fake.The scenery looked like matte paintings from old technicolor films. The colours were sumptuous. And then there’s the costumes by Pierre-Yves Gayraud. It looked exactly like I think a fairy tale film ought to.
The wikipedia article on the French critics’ response describes what I felt in a more succinct way (and the references are spot on):
They praised the colours and contrasts of the landscape, which they said recalled the work of American painter Maxfield Parrish, and the visual style, which they compared to films by Mario Bava and Tsui Hark.
In terms of content, I would’ve liked more development of Belle and the Beast’s relationship. I like the use of Belle’s dreams to find out more about the Beast’s life as a human (and, with one issue I shan’t go into, I loved the reason he became the Beast) but there was still a large jump, for me, from Belle being scared of the Beast to being in love with him. I think if she had been less scared of him or they had spent more time together, I’d have found it less unsettling and not too quick. I think there will always be uncomfortable elements in the relationship between Belle and the Beast but many people have gone over these and I shan’t rehash it. It is still a story I (and obviously many others) find compelling, which is very interesting to me. Something to ponder.
There definitely could have been more for Seydoux to do but we got a feel for her character, despite that. Most of her character came through in the scenes with her family, especially with her father, but we still see both her loyalty and playfulness when she’s at the castle. The ending of the film was lovely and immensely satisfying (after a vaguely frightening confrontation between the ‘baddies’ and some giant statues, which were once the Beast’s pals). It’s right up there with Ever After for endings of fairy tale films for me.
I doubt this film will be to everyone’s tastes but anyone with an interest in fairy tales (even if it is one of the many we see over and over again), costume design nerds and anyone with an appreciation of a beautiful looking film ought to see it.