One day, a merchant get lost in the forest and enters a strange castle. He picks up a rose for Beauty, what makes the castle's owner appear. He is a monster, half-human (body) and half-beast (paws, head), and he has magic powers. He sentenced the merchant to death, unless one of his daughters replaces him. Beauty sacrifices herself for her father and go to the castle. She will discover that the Beast is not so wild and inhuman than it looks.
Despite the Oscar-nominated animated version from Disney, painter-poet-playwright-novelist Jean Cocteaus first foray into feature filmmaking, even 50 years after its original release, remains the finest telling of Beauty And The Beast fable.
Day is ravishing as the maiden who offers herself as prisoner in place of her weak-willed and manipulative father after he is caught stealing a rose from the enchanted garden of the secretive beast. Cocteau-favourite Marais, in turn, achieves a sort of tormented magnificence as the manimal of the title, although he fails to match it in his secondary roles as the foolish and overbearing wastrel Avenant and the smarmy prince.
Blissfully free of the PC feminist leanings of the animated version, this black-and-white fantasia revels instead in grandiose medieval settings and technical trickery. Marvellous surreal effects live on the minds eye long after the lights go up: the beasts smoking paws; a living mantelpiece; the billowing white drapes as Belle is carried along a castle corridor, seemingly without moving her feet; and ethereal human arms brandishing candelabra.
Cocteau uses wispy strands of lighting to magical effect and, to his credit, never attempts to fashion anything but a fairytale, inducing a childlike wonder rather than some cerebral reaction the subtitles are of a limited nature. Even the warm comedy of the sleeping footmen in the farmyard and Belles spiteful sisters bickering still rings true. Years have not dulled the lustre of this classic, the impact of a big screen viewing is nothing short of astonishing.
Brilliant fairytale fantasy, well ahead of It's time.