La bella y la bestia

Crítica de Pablo Suárez - Buenos Aires Herald

Of all the film versions of Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, the one made by French surrealist master Jean Cocteau in 1946 is unlikely to ever be out shadowed. Utterly poetic and absorbingly beautiful, Cocteau’s film is both very personal and faithful to the spirit of the fairy tale. It’s more of an adults’ version than one for children, and yet it’s magical from beginning to end.

The other famous and dazzling version, as we all know, is the 1991 animated musical romantic fantasy by Walt Disney Pictures, which premiered at the New York Film Festival and was instantly embraced by viewers and critics alike. It was the second Disney film produced using Computer Animation Production System, which provided a wider range of colours and soft shades, and allowed for the simulation of multiplane effects that gave the illusion of depth.

In their own senses, both Cocteau’s and Disney’s versions are true accomplishments that even went beyond the expectations they’d aroused at the time. Too bad the same cannot be said of the new production Beauty and the Beast, directed by Christophe Gans and starring the beautiful Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel as the odd couple falling in love. Not that it’s a total mess, because it really isn’t. But it’s wrongly conceived from the very start in some key aspects, so no wonder it has such a hard time taking off and, in the end, it never quite delivers.

For the most part, this cinematic version is also faithful to its source: it’s the story of an unlikely romance that blossoms after the youngest and prettiest daughter of a merchant who’s down and out on his luck offers herself to the strange beast to whom her father was indebted. As we all know, the Beast is nothing but a handsome prince who will become a man again only if he can get a woman to love him.

The first thing you can say about Gans’s version (whose credits as a director include the passable Brotherhood of the Wolf and Silent Hill) is actually a good thing: the mise-en-scene and visual design of his new film are indeed eye-catching. Lots of attention has been paid to minute details as well as to the big picture, and so a world of its own unveils a few minutes into the story. The same goes for the technically impeccable cinematography, which changes colours, shades and textures according to the changes in the story. As for the atmosphere and visuals, nothing to complain about. However, bear in mind that this is the exact kind of work that Hollywood producers and directors do all the time and in the exact same way — there’s little personality to be found here.

And then there are the problems, which are far more important, starting with the awkward mix of aesthetics traits typical of fairy tales with multiple and often unnecessary CGI effects. It’s hard to maintain your suspension of disbelief when you feel you are watching two different films at once. Then there’s a problem with the target audience, and not a minor one either: there are times when the plot is narrated in a somewhat complicated manner for young children (past and present switching back and forth, and not via conventional flashbacks, plus a subplot that goes nowhere), but the film itself is too childlike for older kids or young teens, let alone adults. So who’s to watch it?

Furthermore, there’s something else that you’d never expect from fairy tales in general, and most particularly from this one: little passion, little sentiment, little romance. Not only because the script doesn’t provide the actors with many chances to act them out, but because when they do it seems they are just going through the motions. And that’s when you realize that this version of Beauty and the Beast is drowning in its own visual splendour.

So no wonder it is a slow moving film that soon turns into a tedious one that will eventually become quite forgettable.

Production notes
La belle et la bête / Beauty and the Beast (France/Germany, 2014). Directed by Christophe Gans. With: Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Eduardo Noriega. Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne. Running time: 115 minutes.