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Beauty And The Beast (La Belle et la Bete) (Movie Review)

Beauty-BeastThroughout fairy tale history, Beauty and the Beast is a story that is a well, with directors, writers, studios, theatres and such constantly going back to it.  Its been done on the stage, in film, on television and I’m sure in the comic book format as well.  My youth had a week to week series back in the day, a modernized version where a Ron Perlman Beast lived in the sewers woo’ing his beauty that was Linda Hamilton.  No matter how many, there are only two interpretations that have really stood the test of time and become the “go to” definitive versions.  One obviously being the Disney animated film (Which I just review the new Blu-ray for last week).  The other, is the masterpiece of French cinema, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film.   And next year, Disney is doing a live action rendition of their animated feature with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.  Today, we are taking a look at 2014’s French take on the classic story from the director of Brotherhood of the Wolf and Silent Hill.

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After the wreck of his ships, a financially-ruined merchant exiles himself in the countryside with his six children. Among them is Belle, his youngest daughter, a joyful girl full of grace. One day, during an arduous journey, the merchant stumbles across the magical domain of the Beast, who sentences him to death for stealing a rose. Feeling responsible for the terrible fate which has befallen her family, Belle decides to sacrifice herself and take her father’s place. At the Beast’s castle, it is not death that awaits Belle, but a strange life in which fantastical moments mingle with gaiety and melancholy. Every night, at dinner, Belle and the Beast sit down together. They learn about each other, taming one another like two strangers who are total opposites. When she has to repulse his amorous advances, Belle tries to pierce the mysteries of the Beast and his domain. And when night falls, the Beast’s past is revealed to her bit by bit in her dreams.

Christophe Gans’ Beauty and the Beast is first and foremost a visual splendor.  The film has some breathtaking shots and cultivates its own world and place by having some really luscious visuals.  There are settings that are straight out of the most beautiful vision of a fantasy film you could imagine in your head.  Lots of this film looks iconic just in execution.  The house on the outskirts, the Beast’s castle, the woods, the giants, everything is distinct and has a look.  This film features many portions that I would love to have as a painting or something, especially a moment where Belle falls under some ice.  For that bit alone, this movie is pretty much recommendable and worth seeing just for pure visuals.

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Gans’ story takes its own liberties and twists its own rendition of the old fairytale.  Its never harmful to it, or offensive to anything that came before.  In fact, it makes the film a bit more interesting and unpredictable in this regard as things could wind up slightly different.  The Beast’s backstory has as twist element that I don’t think is fully realized or hinted at til it has to be, but it still works and is a different take on why he is the way he is.  Where this film ultimately falls short, is crafting a believable love story for Belle and the Beast.  It just seems they weren’t given enough time or didn’t have enough conversation for her to really be completely into him and open up.  At their last juncture before the finale, it feels as if the door was just slightly starting to open.  The resolution looks good and we know what it is, it just isn’t really earned.

Belle is this time played by Lea Seydoux, who is pretty terrific in the role.  She sort of makes something out of nothing here.  And that’s no fault of the script, its just going by typical standards of the character.  She’s pretty thick skinned and always willing to help.  Seydoux, I think, breaks a traditional mold of what we feel we see in a actress to play Belle.  Vincent Cassel is in this, because of course.  I found it interesting that the age gap between he and Seydoux is damn near identical to that of her and Craig in SPECTRE (the following year).  Cassel is a great actor, but I feel they should have found someone closer in age for her.  Both are talented, but I sort of don’t feel a complete chemistry here between them.  I’m not sure I even found it with him and his wife in the flashback sequences.  I’m not saying this is awful, but the chemistry between the two is soft.

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The film isn’t without some big fantasy action.  There are some creatures and the like that face off against baddies from another town over in a later sequence in the film. What I like about what Gans’ brings here is an honesty to the battle.  No, its not ruthless and over-gored, but its not safe, friendly and silly either.  Guys get smashed and flung and die, they are just scared away.  You’ll have to see for yourself, but its a rather well put together sequence that feels pretty large and brings a sense of intensity around a group of characters you could care less of what their fates may be.

2014’s edition Beauty and the Beast will probably come and go, but it isn’t without merit.  It was a huge hit in France and is just now getting to the US.  The film is visually very interesting and follows a unique twist on the story that is quite different and good.  Performances stack up well even if the chemistry isn’t completely there.  I’d definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of the story or a person who’s strengths in their love of cinema will bend a lot for terrific cinematography.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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