I happened upon this film accidentally while perusing videos for my Beauty and the Beast presentation for my middle school classes (which resulted in my finding an incredible French singer Indila —–> VIDEO). I was skeptical when I watched its trailer but intrigued enough after several months of debating to give the film a try. I won’t spend my usual amount of time reviewing this film (aka I won’t write a six-page essay for you). However, I will do my best to enlighten any who might be interested in this film.
Director Christophe Gans‘s greatest obstacles in making this new 2014 adaptation of the popular fairytale were Jean Cocteau’s 1946 surrealist film and Disney’s 1991 musical. Cocteau’s brilliant use of cinematography and practical effects made his early surrealist film nothing short of a masterpiece. Consequently, future directors refrained from adapting Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy tale for almost fifty years.
It wasn’t until 1991 filmmakers successfully added a new dimension to this fairytale. Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast was an instant hit among viewers and critics. Critics praised it for its artful storytelling, engaging characters, and memorable musical numbers. Disney’s film also received multiple awards and nominations, including a Golden Globe and Oscar for best picture and multiple Oscars nominations for its music. (I already completed my review of this film. Feel free to look at it. ——> REVIEW)
The film begins with Belle telling her story to two small children from an embossed, leather book. Her father, a wealthy merchant, fell into poverty with his six children after a storm destroyed his ships. Left almost penniless, they retire to the countryside until word reaches them that one of their ships made it back to a port town with all his goods. Excited, he journeys with his eldest son with a long list of goods to bring back for his two elder daughters and Belle’s simple request for a rose.
Misfortune rather than luck accompanies him on his journey as he finds that not only is he unable to touch his goods, but his son owes a young man Perducas a large sum of money. With the bartender’s help, he flees into the forest and stumbles onto the Beast’s castle.
A mysterious host feeds, shelters him, and provides all that his daughters asked him, except of course Belle’s rose. When the merchant leaves, he plucks a single red rose from a towering hedge and is attacked by the enraged Beast. As payment for taking his rose, the Beast requests a life for his rose. The father, grief-stricken, returns to his children with his news, and, overcome with guilt, Belle against her family’s wishes takes her father’s place.
Compared to the original fairy tale Christophe Gans did a splendid job creating something fresh and new. Its plot more closely follows Cocteau’s 1946 film, with Belle’s much larger family and background but shies away from following it too closely. The biggest difference was the Beast’s back story. I will not ruin it for you but suffice it to say that the Beast made a terrible mistake that condemned him to wait for a young maiden’s love at the expense of losing his dearest love.
The only question that prevailed me the entire story was “Why set up such a tragic back story with an equally twisted resolution?” The whole time I felt Belle was merely a means to an end, meaning only she had to love him. He could remain ambivalent to her feelings as long as she accepted him. At least, that is how I interpreted it. In fact, by the end, I do not know if he loved her at all. Though I applaud Gans for his inventive thinking and outlook on this classic fairy tale, I felt that it overlooked its original intent. When evaluating the 1946 French film I put it thus:
Nonetheless, at its heart, the film managed to retain and even exemplify the essential message of the original fairy-tale: that it is within the soul that beauty is found and true love bypasses physical appearances.
Was that the purpose of this film? I do not think so. I think through its plot Gans wanted to have Belle accept the Beast for merely his sake. He did not change for her, nor did he emit the gentleness and weakness of the original.
My western history professor once remarked that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast‘s story centered on a phenomenon called Stockholm Syndrome. It meant that Belle slowly allowed herself to empathize with her captor Beast and fall into an abusive relationship. In regards to Disney’s film. . . it is a dumb assertion. For THIS movie, however, I believe it. Here is why. Most of the film seemed to center on sexual/ physical tension between Belle and the Beast NOT love. How else could they explain why she loved him?
PLOT EXECUTION/ SCREENPLAY:
Though, in theory, the plot was original, its execution fell flat. Despite the film’s two-hour runtime, it did not adequately convey the original fairytale’s message and develop a beautiful love story. The filmmakers spent too much time developing Beast’s backstory. Consequently, they failed to adequately create a sincere, romantic story.
It’s truly a mystery how Belle fell in love with the Beast in this story. He obviously loved his previous wife more, and they did not have nearly enough time together to develop a healthy friendship, let alone a romantic relationship. For the majority of the film, I felt Belle really should leave the Beast. He was physically abusive, and at times too cruel.
One scene, in particular, bothered me. After Belle stumbles upon Beast devouring an animal in his tower, she runs away terrified over the lake by the castle. Beast ran after Belle over a sheet of ice. He proceeded to yell at her and move in to kiss her while pinning her down. She laid there in a haze of terror, or perhaps primal attraction then . . . the ice broke, she fell, he grabbed the front of her dress at the top of her corset REALLY slowly, and stared at her (for some reason she was unconscious).
Then the scene shifted to her bedroom (which used to be his wife’s bedroom. . . yeah) where she lay in a nightdress. Right after that happens, he gives her leave to visit her family, and somehow she feels touched by his sudden kindness. When I watched this, I was confused. I thought he was a perve, and she helpless and idiotic. Truthfully, it was one of the most beautifully shot, ridiculous scenes I have ever witnessed.
I had other problems with its execution. Some scenes weren’t necessary: Belle walking through the palace while being followed by creepy dogs with big eyes, her teasing her sisters stupidly, and even the whole scene with the medium and the Beast’s former love’s statue. Also, the end battle was unneeded filler. All in all, this movie had confusing pacing and filler.
I would not say the characters were copy-cutouts. No, that was not the problem. The performances and chemistry of the characters did not work. I felt completely detached from any of the main characters.
Belle did not deliver as either a graceful and kind lady or an intelligent, mature woman. For most of the movie, I felt, “She is here because the plot needs her to be.” She did not leave the confines of her role. She fell in love with the Beast, though I still have no idea HOW that happened (Cough Stockholm Syndrome), and gallantly rescued him from death. (I cared more for the medium Anne’s relationship problems with Perducas than Belle’s. That’s just sad.) I think it is more the writer’s fault than the actress Léa Seydoux that Belle was such a bland heroine. Truthfully, this actress did a phenomenal job in this role. It’s just I hated the role they had her play.
Vincent Cassel’s acting as the Beast was also incredible, but his character was altogether unlikable. Even as a human being, the prince acted like a beast. Not in the way Disney’s Beast was. With his physical transformation, no one expected him to change. I do not think he had even considered reforming himself after all those years. The prince was a brute of a man even with his former love.
Anyway, when Belle came along, he probably thought, “How convenient, a girl I can use to break my curse.” Yes, Adam did the same thing, BUT he changed and loved Belle for who she was. He even let her go at his own expense with no intention of making her return, though it broke his heart. He reformed from a spoiled prince into an aspiring king. I cannot say the same for the Beast in this film. Isn’t the point of this character to show that it is through the heart that we should judge others, NOT how they look? I will say that I didn’t mind his appearance too much. He looked very regal and cunning like a lion but nowhere near as well designed as Glen Keane’s Beast.
Some of the other characters were unnecessary, like the weirdly transformed dogs, the villain Perducas, and even her sisters. I did like her brother Tristan. He was my favorite character. Part of me wishes that he had been the Beast instead.
One way this film succeeded was through its visual effects. Some of the scenes provided views of forests, and others led the audience on a journey through a captivating crumbling castle. Though I found the story unengaging, the cinematography more than made up for it. I think my favorite scenes showed Belle running to three different pooled mirrors and Belle and Beast’s dance. (I’m not saying it was romantic at ALL. I just liked how it looked.) They were just fun to watch.
Also, the costume design was outstanding. I loved watching to see what new dress Belle would wear, and I thought it matched the initial Period very well. Though visually, this film remained enchanting throughout, I felt that the CGI was a little overbearing at times. For the most part, however, they were beautiful and worth a look-see.
The music was incredible. Its writer, Pierre Adenot, enhanced the Beast’s castle’s mysterious atmosphere and emphasized traumatic events well without having his music overwhelm the scenes. Though, for this film that might be altogether impossible given its incredible visuals. My favorite song came at Belle and Beast’s first dinner together. There was something about the sweeping low strings that utterly entranced me. I like the soundtrack and will probably listen to it a lot in the future.
I did not like this film as much as I thought I would. It may seem I am overly critical of it, but given its origins, I know that I must be. When writers and filmmakers choose to adapt famous stories, they must push the boundaries to exceed expectations. Disney’s 1991 musical and Cocteau’s 1946 film are far superior to Gans’s attempt. If you want to see this film, I would recommend it for the music and cinematography. Anything else, I leave to your interpretation. My heart still belongs to Disney’s animated masterpiece and will most likely stay there indefinitely.
OVERALL SCORE: 3.6/5
Belle: Who does this castle belong to?
The Beast: Everything here belongs to me.
Belle: You talk like any other man. It’s a little disappointing.
(This is the only scene I felt she showed a back bone and fought back against the Beast’s abusive personality).