For Americans who are unfamiliar with the original French traditional fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, written by French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbor de Villeneuve, Christophe Gans’ La Belle et la Bête is as close as one would get to the original source material with a few added twists.
For fans of the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, Christophe Gans’ interpretation is full of the beauty and fantasmical splendor of the Disney version, but on a grander scale. The cinematography is breathtaking and will capture the hearts of anyone who watches the film. It is a little bit on the dark side in comparison to Disney’s version, but it is still appropriate enough for the little ones, especially when they run across the little puppy hybrid creatures that make short appearances in the film.
Now, let us tackle the storyline.
The storyline, I felt, was very close to the original French fairytale. As a child, I was obsessed with fairytales from all over the world, so the lexicon in my brain perked up while watching this film.
We are first introduced to Belle (Léa Seydoux) and her family at the beginning of the film. Her father has been forced into financial ruin after his three merchant ships were lost at sea. We quickly grasp that almost all of his children have led spoiled lives and it has corrupted their character. The only one who is handling the situation well is Belle, who is actually quite open to the idea of moving to the countryside and living a more simple life. There is a discovery of one of the ships having reached shore and the Father (André Dussollier) goes with his eldest son to check out to see what can be salvaged. Upon discovering that he’s still destitute, he goes to a bar in search of his son. This is where we meet one of the big baddies of the film – Perducas (Eduardo Noriega).
Perducas, upon hearing the Father looking for his son, goes down to confront him. The Father escapes on horseback and stumbles upon the most gloriously beautiful and destitute property of the Beast (Vincent Cassel). In familiar fashion, the Father ends up being attacked by the Beast after he plucks a rose to give to Belle. His life is threatened and he hurries back home after being given a one day reprieve to say good bye to his family. Belle blames herself for the situation that her Father is in and steals his horse, mentioning the secret words to guide her way back to the Beast’s castle.
Belle meets the Beast and is given all the luxuries she wants but, in exchange, she must obey certain rules. She must meet the Beast for dinner at 7 PM and she cannot leave the castle when it is dark. That seems fairly simple enough. Time passes with the Beast prompting Belle to see if she is willing to fall in love with him. She cannot.
Interspersed throughout the film are dreams that Belle has that provide us with the background origins of the Beast and why he is now the way that he is. I will not reveal what the dreams pertain to because I want to keep some mystery for you guys.
One night Belle discovers the Beast devouring a hog and she, realistically, freaks out and runs from the Castle. The Beast pursues her and traps her at a frozen lake. Knowing how heavy the Beast is, the ice cracks underneath Belle and she plunges into the lake. The next day the Beast permits her to leave to visit her family for one day.
Meanwhile, the family has declined further. Because of the eldest son and his debts to Perducas, the family is in danger. The sisters are being threatened to be sold as slaves and the Father has been lying in a coma since Belle left. Belle returns and greets her family. The eldest son sees her finery and begins to plot to find his way to the castle and steal the riches to pay off Perducas. He steals her horse and is followed by the second eldest brother to assist.
Belle has a final dream, which influences her heart’s ability to accept the Beast as her lover. She finds her way back to the castle with her youngest brother and witnesses the Beast’s death at the hands of Perducas. Without revealing much in the way of spoilers, Belle manages to revive him in the castle.
The film ends with Belle finishing telling her story to her children. Belle then goes outside to greet her husband, the newly transformed Beast, and everyone lives happily ever after.
The cinematography of this film was truly astounding. Visually, I could not find anything that looked out of place. The color palette utilized throughout the film worked well, with everything complementing each other. One of the comments a friend of mine made while we were watching was, “If Guillermo Del Toro had a twin brother with a slightly more whimsical, happier side, this movie would be his baby.” The visual effects, especially when we get to the Beast’s castle, gave a magic to the world that was very believable. In some ways, the movie’s effects reminded me a bit of
The costume design was also impeccable. Pierre-Yves Gayraud outdid himself with the costumes, making it very believable to the general time era that the film was tentatively taking place in, which I think was like early 1800s. The change in costumes once we reached the Beast’s castle reflected how stuck in time the Beast was.
The story sticking to the fairytale I had read growing up was a definite benefit. I have always liked Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, but have always had a bigger fascination for the original fairytale versions. Because the filmmaker decided to stick to the majority of the original fairytale, the little pagan homages that he had added into the storyline felt very natural and not forced. Taking into account the visual effects, the storyline made a lot more sense when it played out in the dream sequences. I want to add a quick note regarding the fairytale whimsy that this film had. Throughout the course of the film, you have Belle telling the story of Beauty and the Beast to her two young children. I thought the decision to include this was a great choice because it helped to enhance the fairytale whimsy that the film seemed keen on embracing.
One of the weakest, yet most vital components of the film was the lack of romance building. Mind you, most people connect the romance in the Beauty and the Beast story to Stockholm’s Syndrome, which isn’t very romantic. However, this particular incarnation of the story has very little in the ways of Stockholm’s. Whether it was due to poor writing or poor acting, when we came upon the scene where Belle realizes that she is in love with the Beast, it was very unbelievable. Up until that point, Belle had treated him with disgust and disdain. Then one magical dream later, she is in love with him? It just wasn’t cohesive.
My least favorite part was the secondary plot surrounding Belle’s brother and Perducas. While watching the film, it made sense why they were included in there to create conflict for the Beast and Belle. However, I felt that it was a highly unnecessary plot point and conflict could have been created without resorting to such an annoying twist. In general, though, I found Belle’s whole family annoying, except for her youngest brother and her Father. They were actually somewhat okay people.
If you are looking for a film that is visually appealing and is fairly okay in terms of the actual plot, this is the movie for you. It’s definitely a movie meant to entertain and astound the senses visually. It’s definitely not an Oscar worthy film in terms of the acting and writing, but it’s definitely something I think people could watch again and again if they need a distraction from the real world. I also think it’s appropriate for children so, perhaps, a different variation that families can show their kids on movie night.
La Belle et la Bête opens in the United States this Friday, September 23, 2016.