Where do I start when it comes to “Beauty and the Beast”, that wonderful film directed by Jean Cocteau in 1946?
Should I start with the form of this dreamlike work? The movie, shot in black and white, constantly plays with chiaroscuro. Cocteau regretted for a time that the film was not shot in color, but it is nevertheless this black and white that gives it its poetic and fantastic power. The shots are sublime, full of beauty, both disturbing and unreal. You would think you were seeing Gustave Doré in motion.
However, the filming was difficult. Filmed in the aftermath of WWII, the means were lacking and Cocteau had to be ingenious to film this dreamlike tale in a drained French economy that hardly allowed itself to daydreaming.
Jean Marais underwent five hours of make-up to be able to embody the Beast (three hours for the face, one hour per hand), and by an astonishing mirror effect, Jean Cocteau developed intolerable itching. Cocteau’s involvement was total, especially since his alter ego and lover – Jean Marais – went through the daily ordeal of a make-up made of glue and hair and embodied three roles – Avenant, the Beast and the Prince.
Despite these difficulties, “Beauty and the Beast” became a legendary film, to which many directors would refer, the most obvious being Jacques Demy (whom Cocteau affectionately nicknamed “the kid”), with “Peau d’Ane”. In addition to the presence of Jean Marais in the two movies, the connection between “Beauty and the Beast” and “Peau d´Ane” is crystal clear. The mirror, the men in the walls, the rose, the imposing dresses, the magical journeys are all nods to the work of Cocteau.
And they are both taken from fairy tales. Which brings me to the substance. We all know the tale of “Beauty and The Beast”, widely exploited by the Disney studios.
In short, we are talking about a beautiful and virtuous young girl who sacrifices herself to save her father by going to live in the gloomy castle of a frightening beast. Belle gradually falls in love with the Beast, who turns out to be good and gentle, and this love frees the Beast from a dreadful spell. The tale we all know was written by Mrs Leprince de Beaumont in 1756, and teaches children to distinguish moral ugliness from physical ugliness.
There is also a lot to say about the sacrificial role that Belle takes: she becomes hardworking and modest when her father experiences a setback, she takes the place of her father in fulfilling the sentence decreed by the Beast.
This sacrificial role is obviously linked to the predominant female role: living without a mother, Belle takes the place of the main female figure of the home, following her penniless father to the countryside while her sisters stay in town, or taking care of the household. The link is both oedipal (from Belle who takes the place of the predominant female figure of the house and who asks her father for a rose – what a strong symbol) and almost incestuous (from the father who has a preference for one of his daughters and who dies when Belle does not return from the palace).
The fairy tale is coupled here with an educational fable: Belle, who is probably a young girl just out of adolescence, must leave the parental nest, cut the oedipal link that binds her to her father, move towards her individuality, her independence and her sexuality, represented by a disturbing and hairy male figure living in the depths of thick woods. However, the male figure of the Beast is gentle, caring and full of love. As soon as Belle returns to the palace, she has broken the oedipal bond that connects her to her father and fully accepts the love and sexual bond that will unite her to the Beast.
Cocteau turns Mrs Leprince de Beaumont’s tale into a far more disturbing fable, far more dreamlike than the original. The Beast is more terrifying there, because it is subjected to its passions: the Beast cannot help but kill animals and devour them and hardly contains its anger and (what one guesses to be) its/his sexual impulses – where the tale of Mrs Leprince de Beaumont evokes only a platonic and marital love. In addition, the end of the film is very ambiguous because it is not known whether the Beast becomes prince again thanks to Belle’s love or thanks to Avenant who takes its/his place in the spell. Even more ambiguous since the same actor plays Avenant, The Beast and the Prince.
Cocteau perfectly contrasts a mediocre love subject to low passions and a transcended love carried by high feelings, the latter type of love being the only one capable of uplifting soul, heart and body.
We must discuss here an enduring myth: “Beauty and the Beast” as a perfect example of the Stockholm syndrome. We can thank (or not) the Disney film, which dates from 1991, for that, since the Beast is presented as a man who suffered a curse because of his wickedness. He deprives Belle of dinner the first night, has bursts of violence and behaves like an executioner. However, Belle falls in love with the Beast, illustrating here the Stockholm syndrome – which describes the sympathy developed by victims for their captors.
This syndrome dates back to 1973: during a hold-up in Stockholm, the four bank employees held hostage by their captors intervened between the police and their kidnappers and even went to visit the latter in prison thereafter. The Stockholm syndrome is characterized by the development of a feeling of confidence of the hostages towards their captors, by the birth of a positive feeling of the captors towards their hostages and by hostility of the hostages victims vis-à-vis the police.
By extension, Stockholm syndrome describes the situation of an abusive spouse who keeps his victim in a state of dependence.
Such a mechanic is omnipresent in the Disney animated film, far from the original tale and Cocteau’s film. However, Disney has heavily drawn from Cocteau’s universe: the humanization of the furniture, the presence of Gaston, directly inspired by Avenant, or the head of the Beast which echoes the makeup inflicted on Jean Marais.
If you need to see one and only “Beauty and the Beast”, it is Jean Cocteau’s movie, of course.
For this photo shoot, no costume, but a passionate red dress and roses 😉
June 24, 2022
Max Mara dress – Repetto flat shoes – Monoprix hat with a Hermès scarf – Coccinelle handbag embellished with a Fendi strap – Chanel sunglasses