La Belle et la Bête [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (5th August 2018).
The Film

"La Belle et la Bête" AKA "Beauty and the Beast" (1946)

A widowed merchant (played by Marcel André) is going through some tough times in his career as well as with his family. Collectors are looking into his debts which in turn is causing a rift with his dependent grown children. His son Ludovic (played by Michel Auclair) is headstrong yet frustrated with how his father is handling and not handling the issues. His elder daughters Félicie and Adélaïde (played by Mila Parély and Nane Germon) are all about glamour and status and not looking toward a life of non-dependency. His youngest daughter Belle (played by Josette Day) is unlike the others. She is practically a servant of the house and is faithful to her father while hoping for something better. She does have a suitor, Ludovic's friend Avenant (played by Jean Marais) who has the charm and the power to whisk Belle away, but she is not interested in his advances at all.

Things turn worse when the father becomes lost and finds himself at a mysterious castle on his way home one day. When he plucks a rose from the garden to give as a gift to Belle, he encounters a monstrous beast who punishes him for the theft but with one condition. He may have his life spared if one of his daughters would take his place. When Belle hears about what happened and how she felt guilt for asking her father for a Rose, she takes the matter into her own hands, and journey's to the castle of the Beast...

The first publication of the fairy tale "La belle et la bête " or "Beauty and the Beast" was in 1740, written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. While she may have been the first, the story would be abridged, updated, and changed over the years with each adaptation, though the most commonly known version would be the version written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 as a collection of children's stories. Artist Jean Cocteau's film adaptation would mostly take cues from the Beaumont version while adding a few touches of his own which in turn would influence later versions of the story. He added the character of Avenant the suitor for Belle who would later in turn be a more villainous type and counterpart to the Beast. The magical castle with the inanimate objects such as candles, busts, tables, and others coming to life was also added visually. The number of children the widowed merchant had was lowered from six to three. The ending also has a slight change due to the addition of Avenant. Even with the changes, the end product was unmistakably "Beauty and the Beast". The production took inspiration from many other tales and not just the original. Elements of "Frankenstein", "King Kong", and "Cinderalla" are incorporated into the story as well.

The story of "La belle et la bête" was in Cocteau's mind ever since he was young and to adapt it into a production was a dream for a long time. Financing for the production as a film was not easy. Cocteau was known more as an "artist" rather than a filmmaker - not one to play by the rules, not one to equate to commercially viable works. His previous film "The Blood of a Poet" from 1930 was an avant garde classic but also grew criticism from filmmakers and critics. While his career was busy in poetry, painting, and theater over the years, his goal to bring "Beauty and the Beast" to screens during WWII proved difficult through his reputation as well as the state of the world. Eventually the film was greenlit in summer of 1945, but then had its financing and production cancelled, later rescued independently, and continued production in postwar France.

While the story had some parallels to the difficult family life and strains with money and future like many French people faced after the war, what sold the film to producers was the dreamlike quality and fairy tale aspects to bring the traumatized and broken French society to uplifting spirits. How Cocteau described some of the castle scenes was what made the film stand out. Belle entering on an invisible dolly that would make her seem to float rather than walk, the waving long curtains that echoed a ghostly effect, the castle being a living breathing creature with the use of people becoming portions of the castle set. These are the most memorable portions of the 1946 film. It doesn't feel like watching a fairy tale or a drama, but feels like a dream altogether. Cinematographer Henri Alekan captured the essence of the visuals, and the designs by Christian Bérard looks incredible. The audience accepts the bizarre and amazing visuals while also being enraptured by the relationship between the main characters of the beauty and the beast. But if the Beast was not convincing, then there would be no film. Actor Jean Marais played the Beast undergoing hours of make-up transformation for his face and for his arms while being draped with a lengthy coat and the make-up even more than 70 years later looks incredible with the facial features and how his eyes still pierce through. "Beauty and the Beast" is a visual marvel and a classic adaptation in its own right, but is it perfect? There are flaws like any other fairly tale of yore.

When the Beast lets the father go, what makes the father discuss the details? If he never mentioned about the beast and the castle he could have gone scott free as the beast would most likely not come after him. The ending with the "swap" does seem a little confusing and unnecessary. But even with the flaws in the narrative, Cocteau's version is definitely one that works. The visuals are magical. The story is timeless. The make-up and effects are exquisite. For years the film remained one of the most beloved French films of all time even if it was not a major awards winner back in 1946 and some critics gave it a lukewarm reception. It is easily Cocteau's most well known work in the mainstream, and would later influence many other fantasy film productions including the Disney animated "Beauty and the Beast" in 1991 and the Disney live action "Beauty and the Beast" in 2017 owed heavily to the Cocteau version with the living creatures of the castle and the brute character of Gaston being a version of Avenant for examples. The 2014 French live action film "La belle et la bête" also took influence from the Disney animated film and the Cocteau film making its own mark with the effects and story.

The film was given a photochemical restoration in 1995 by Centre national de l'audiovisuel, Luxembourg and CLT-UFA International, breathing new life into the classic film for future generations. In 2013 the film was given a 4K digital restoration by SNC/Groupe M6 and the Cinémathèque Française and this Blu-ray from the BFI presents the latest restored version on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray

Video

The BFI presents the film in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p with the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The film was originally restored photochemically in 1995. A digital restoration came in 2013 by SNC/Groupe M6 and the Cinémathèque Française. The original 35mm camera negative and the 35mm fine grain interpositive were used for the restoration. Portions in which the original negative had missing frames or severe damage the interpositive were used being the next closest element from the first generation. The elements were scanned in 5K resolution and then digitally restored in 4K. The digitally restored film was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival and later received a French Blu-ray release that year. This BFI release uses the same master, which has its positives as well as some unfortunate negatives.

The restored film looks fairly magnificent with image stability, damage removed, minute details, and good greyscale for the black and white image. The corners of the frame are rounded, using as much of the original camera negative image as possible. In comparison to the US Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection from 2011 which used the 1995 restoration element transferred to HD, there is more visible in the frame and a noticeable difference in greyscale, stability, and damage marks. While a lot has been put into the 4K digital restoration, there are still some imperfections such as scratch marks and other damage in certain scenes. Unfortunately, there is issue with the encoding of this particular disc. In certain dark scenes, there is noticeable macroblocking causing blotchy dark pixelated blobs to appear on the screen. While this was not noticeable on first time viewing at a fair distance and adequate lighting, on another closer inspection it was noticeable and slightly disruptive. It doesn't happen in every scene and may not be noticeable to the average viewer, but it does come as a surprise considering the BFI's track record. Overall there are many positives to the image but the underlying encoding issue makes this a disappointing release.

The runtime is 94:35 which also includes the restoration credits.

Audio

French LPCM 2.0 mono
The original French audio track has also been restored and given a lossless audio treatment. The audio has been remastered using a 35mm optical preservation element from the 1995 photochemical restoration. The audio track has not gotten a more recent restoration and it does suffer somewhat, but mostly due to the original elements being weak. The score by Georges Auric sounds good but some of the high end pitches can sound a little distorted, dialogue also can seem a little on the muffled side as well. But on the brighter side, there are no hisses or cracks in the audio, and the restored track sounds fairly clear considering the age and elements.

There are optional English subtitles for the main feature in a white font, easy to read with no issues of spelling or grammar errors.

Extras

Audio Commentary with writer and cultural historian Professor Sir Christopher Frayling
In this commentary, Frayling discusses the history of the film, about Cocteau, comparisons to the original sources as well as other fairy tales and later adaptations, and more. Frayling has contributed to numerous commentaries over the years and like those, this is another that is well researched and well spoken for the full duration of the film. This commentary was previously available on the BFI DVD, the Criterion 2003 reissue DVD, the Criterion Blu-ray, and others.
in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Digital Adventure of Beauty and the Beast (Des rêves de Cocteau en numérique, l'aventure de La Belle et la Bete)" documentary (51:02)
In this 203 documentary which features separate edited interviews with author Dominique Marny, Professor David Gullentops from the University of Bruxelles, La Cinémathèque française's Serge Toubiana and others, they discuss Cocteau's career, the long road in the making of the movie including the troubles, the casting, the reception, and the restorations of the film. The menus and packaging use the original French title while the subtitles caption it with the English translated "Cocteau's Dreams in Digital - The Story of Beauty and the Beast". This documentary was previously available on the French M6 Video Blu-ray.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 and 1.78:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

"Christian Bernard and Jean Cocteau: Two Magicians Performing (Christian Bernard et Jean Cocteau, deux magiciens du spectacle)" featurette (23:37)
This featurette has interviews with film historian Jean Ollé-Laprune and the President of Comité Cocteau - Pierre Bergé as they discuss the dual careers and collaborations between artists Bernard and Cocteau not just only for "La Belle et la Bête" but for many other works as well. This featurette was previously available on the French M6 Video Blu-ray.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Deleted Scenes (with Play All) (6:00)
- La Farce du Drapier (4:19)
- Scene 04B (1:03)
- Scene 02B (0:38)

The first deleted scene involves Ludovic and Avenant playing a prank. The other two scenes are in audio form only as the picture is lost. The first deleted scene has also been restored though not to the level of the feature film. These were previously available on the French M6 Video Blu-ray.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Stills Gallery (1:39)
A collection of posters and behind the scenes stills are offered in an automated slideshow with no music accompaniment.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

"Barbe Bleue" 1938 animated short film by René Bertrand (12:58)
In this 1938 short film directed by René Bertrand brings the Charles Perrault classic tale of "Bluebeard" to life in Gasparcolor and claymation. This is from the 1995 restoration and colors are vibrant and bold though damage such as scratches and cuts are very noticeable.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Original theatrical trailer (1:56)
Although labeled as "original" this seems to be the 1995 restoration trailer.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

BFI trailer (1:21)
This trailer was made for the 2013 restoration and the newly recorded music is incredibly full in stereo. The picture is slightly windowboxed. It is basically the French restoration trailer with the BFI logos at the opening and ending.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in French LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Booklet
A 36 page booklet is also included. First there is the essay "Cocteau, La Belle et la Bête and the
World of Dreams" by Dr Deborah Allison, Senior Programmer and Event Cinema Manager at Picturehouse Cinemas, who discusses the film and its place, the influences of the film, and about Cocteau's work in general. "Cocteau’s fairy tale for grown-ups" by author Marina Warner is next, which she puts the fairy tale aspects into context. "Once upon a time, there was Beauty and the Beast..." by George E Turner is from an article published in American Cinematographer in 1997 in which the production is discussed. An excerpt from Jean Cocteau's diary on the making of the film "Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film" is reprinted next, followed by a cast and crew listing, text biographies for Jean Cocteau, Jean Marais, and Josette Day, notes on the extras, notes on the presentation, acknowledgements, and stills.


The BFI Blu-ray improves upon the extras provided on their previous DVD edition though note some extras on previously available editions worldwide were not included. The Criterion Blu-ray and reissue DVD had an alternate 5.1 operatic audio track by Philip Glass, removing the film's soundtrack and entirely replacing it with operatic singing and music. It also included some exclusive featurettes and interviews. The French Blu-ray also included a "The Screening at the Majestic" featurette which was also on the Criterion release.

Overall

Jean Cocteau's "La Belle et la Bête" took the timeless classic and presented a timeless film filled with wonder that is unmatched. It's excellent that the BFI has finally issued the film on Blu-ray after many delays, but unfortunately it seems it could have been delayed further to improve the video encode of the restored film. The extras are plentiful, but becomes a hard recommendation due to the issues in the image.

The Film: A Video: C Audio: B- Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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