– Summary –
Director : Christophe Gans
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux, Andre Dussollier, Eduardo Noriega, Myriam Charleins, Sara Giraudeau, Audrey Lamy, Jonathan Demurge, Nicolas Gob, Louka Meliava, Yvonne Catterfeld, Dejan Bucin.
Approx Running Time : 115 Minutes
Synopsis: The famed story of a young girl and the Beast she falls in love with.
What we think : As far from Disney as you can imagine, this film version of the classic French story can be reviewed with but a single word: stunning. To say more, would merely limit this film’s magnificence to the bounds of my vocabulary.
This Beast rocks.
Anyone who knows me well has no doubt heard me claim French cinema to be “moist and sexy” – my experience with film from the European continent isn’t broad, I’ll admit, but the films I have seen shimmer with the look of wet, sultry charm that makes them almost impossible to resist. Christophe Gans, the man who gave us Silent Hill and the weird Mark Dacascos-martial-arts-flick-slash-French-period-piece in Brotherhood Of The Wolf (which isn’t a fantastic film, but worth a look for the cinematography, action and production design!), helms this lavishly mounted, gorgeous looking take on the 18th Century French fairy tale, La belle et la bête, better known to English speakers the world over as The Beauty and The Beast. Anyone who has lived through the last century should be familiar with the story, if not in detail then at least at a cursory level, with Disney’s Oscar nominated animated feature being perhaps the most iconic portrayal in the modern era of this classic fable. So how does this modern version cover off on the story? Does it transcend the Disney singing and dancing to become a successful, iconic film in its own right?
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: In France, 1810, a bankrupt merchant (André Dussollier) exiles himself to the countryside with his six children. Among them is Belle (Léa Seydoux), his youngest daughter, who is pure of heart. One day, during an arduous journey, the merchant stumbles across the magical domain of the Beast (Vincent Cassel), who sentences him to death for stealing a single 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, however, 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 and tame one another. When she has to repulse his amorous advances, Belle tries to pierce the mysteries of the Beast and his domain; she learns that the Beast was once a Prince, who loved a Princess (Yvonne Catterfeld), until tragedy took her from him, and cast him into the role of a hideous creature lurking within the castle walls. Meanwhile, the arrogant Perducas (Eduardo Noeriega) and his fortune-telling mistress Astrid (Myriam Charleins) learn of the Beast’s castle through two of the merchant’s sons, and lead a raiding party to steal all the treasure they can find in the enormous estate.
I’ll admit, until now I was really only familiar with the Disney film version of this story: however, where there was once dancing crockery and singing furniture, here there’s a glowing, heady film experience of magic, wonder and truly amazing film-making, of the kind you don’t see all too often in live-action fare. Gans and his team have crafted a film that distills the very essence of magic, and showers this story with it, producing one hell of an amazing visual experience. It’s most definitely “moist and sexy”, a crisp, elegant fantasy film that defies typically dry critical appraisal as one is swept up in its delightful, lyrical ja na sais quio. See how I used some French there? LOLz to me!
Yeah, I fell in love with this film from the start; not that I ever really found the story of Belle and her animalistic suitor all that appealing (or even interesting), but here, presented not as some modern update or hackneyed romance, this Beast shines as a gorgeously shot fantasy that never tries to be anything but. Led by a terrific Vincent Cassel as the Beast/prince, and Blue Is The Warmest Color star Lea Seydoux as Belle (damn, she’s gorgeous!), the film feels like a lot more than €35m up in the screen. The lush production values, from the gargantuan castle, to the snow-bound forest, to the dingy local city where the merchant and his family lived, are superbly evocative, they feel so real you could reach out and touch them. If only more fairy tale films felt like this one. Gans’ widescreen lensing of this film is like eyeball porn – every frame of this film is so detailed, so beautiful, so pristine, you don’t want to leave it. Normally, fantasy films like this are a little aloof for my liking, in that you never feel that “at home” sensation while you’re watching it, but this Beast did exactly that. It made me feel at home within its dazzling aesthetic.
The cast – as hinted at earlier – deliver solid performances for the film’s demands. The characters are suitably two dimensional where needed, namely Bell and the Beast, who command the screen every time they appear. Cassel spends a large portion of the film under heavy prosthetic/digital effects, as the Beast, but this is offset by some nice flashbacks scattered throughout with him as a normal human, as his backstory is elaborated. Seydoux, as Belle, is appropriately ingenue-ish, her impish-yet-sexy good looks, and natural charisma with Cassel’s Beast, imbuing the film with the sweet-natured romance that propels the narrative forward. Seydoux and Cassel are supported by accomplished French actor Andre Dussollier, as Belle’s father, and Yvonne Catterfeld, as the Prince’s pre-Beast love, in bringing this tragic romantic fantasy to life; the film’s central villain, Perducas (renamed Gaston in Disney’s version) is brought to life by the wonderfully snarling Eduardo Noriega, and although he really only shows up in the film’s final act, he brings enough to his role that makes us hiss whenever he’s on the screen.
Okay, so the film’s script adheres pretty closely to the original story, and the characters aren’t exactly rolling in huge backstory and development, but the screenplay – written by Gans and Sandra Vo-Ahn – is simplistic without being simple, and smart with its depiction of these iconic characters in that they’re basic fairy story stuff without being boring. I guess in a weird kinda way, character complexity isn’t a requirement of a good fairy story – most of the good ones are usually a few dozen paragraphs with the most basic of plot, designed to capture a child’s imagination, less so an adult. Beauty And The Beast doesn’t attempt to subvert the genre with clever “extra” stuff to dazzle audiences with how clever the film-makers are, it just tells the story with as much beauty, moisture and sexiness as it can.
I really loved this film, probably even moreso than the Disney version (which I didn’t mind either), and I simply can’t wait to see it again. There’s so much for the eye to see here, so much detail, texture and information within each shot and frame of the film, it’s like gorging on imagery the entire time. You just can’t take it all in! Familiar as I am with the story, the film still surprised me on the odd occasion (which was nice), and the truly awesome visual effects dragged me right into the story and characters and never once let me go. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite films of the year so far, in terms of a sheer visual escapist entertainment, and I dare you not to come away from this with similar feelings of joy. It’s not a perfect film – very few films are – but it delights and entertains in every moment, making for a truly lovely film watching experience.