Beauty & the Beast (2014)


This foreign-language film is an exquisite visual masterpiece whose minor faults become lost in sheer romanticism.


After a merchant loses three of his ships in a maritime disaster, he must move his family to a simple cottage in the country. His eldest son is grateful to escape his debtors, but his older daughters are unhappy. When a reversal of fortune gives him hope for the future, he must separate from them and venture into town. His daughters burden him with lists of riches, but his youngest daughter, Belle (Lea Seydoux), asks only for a single rose. Mischance leads him from the path into an exquisite garden, where he finds a castle laid out in a fine feast, and the very trunks full of riches his daughters asked him for. The merchant plucks a rose for Belle... and meets the Beast (Vincent Cassel).


Since the merchant was not satisfied with all the Beast gave him, he may return home, bid farewell to his family, and then return for his imprisonment. Little does the Beast expect Belle to show up instead, after she steals her father's horse and decides to take his place. Though terrified of the disembodied voice that haunts the castle, and delighted with the gowns he leaves for her, Belle is not about to give away her heart -- or anything else -- without a fight.


Let's get the problems out of the way first: this script has an unfortunate problem of "telling" rather than showing. There is literally no transition between Belle hating the Beast and telling him off, and her declaring undying love for him when his life comes under threat. If I was meant to read it in the subtext (fighting means attraction?), it did not happen, and that felt like a major oversight. A few scenes of them getting along, or her finding out more about him, or forming a connection would have been useful. The same thing happens with the narrator telling us that the little creatures in the castle would become her "best friends" -- when? it doesn't happen on screen. She barely interacts with them. That being said, everything about this film is gorgeous. The atmosphere feels magical, drenched in beauty; the castle of roses, statues, and little creatures left me wanting to step into the frame. The gowns are jaw-dropping, the Beast looks incredibly real (more so than Disney's!) and I loved how closely it stuck to the original story.


I do not much care for reading subtitles, but I got sucked into the plot and came to appreciate the distinctly French influences on a familiar tale. It is in some respects more of a magical experience than the more recent Americanized version and certainly has superior costume design and animation; enough of it is actual sets and incredible detailing that it rather presents itself as a sumptuous dream. Even if foreign films are not to your taste, you may enjoy this one, despite its rushed romance.

Sexual Content:
The Beast behaves sexually aggressively toward Belle on occasion (she wakes up to find him leaning over her; he jumps on her and pins her to the floor); flashbacks show heavy kissing between a married couple, who fall onto the bed. Gowns show cleavage. A doe turns into a naked woman; her crossed arms block her nipples but some of her breasts are visible; there's several partial shots of her bare backside.
Minor profanities.
The Beast kills and eats deer; a deer is shot with an arrow but runs a short distance before it falls and dies; stone giants stomp and crush men beneath their feet; the Beast is fatally injured.

The presence of a curse.

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