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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Saturday, November 24, 2012
7:20 p.m. Beauty and the Beast
Jean Cocteau (France, 1946)

(La belle et la bête). Jean Cocteau’s classic remains one of the cinema’s most enchanting and sensuous excursions into the realm of poetic fantasy. It is the story of Belle (Josette Day), who, in order to save her father, agrees to live with the hideous Beast (Jean Marais). Slowly, she grows to feel some emotion for him, and her love transforms him. With its superb cinematography by Henri Alékan, splendid makeup creations, and fantastic sets, Beauty and the Beast is a feast for the fairy-tale faithful. But Cocteau reverses the happy ending by making the Beast’s transformation a cause for regret. “My aim,” he said, “would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that is summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.’”

• Written by Cocteau, from a story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Photographed by Henri Alékan. With Jean Marais, Josette Day, Marcel André, Mila Parély. (93 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Janus Films/Criterion Collection)