The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, writer

Sunday, January 09, 2011

La Belle et la Bête

NEWS: I'm delighted to announce that in the last week I've received an award for Top Indie Fantasy of 2010 at the well-regarded site Red Adept Reviews.
I seem to write only fables. All of my short stories are about lessons learned the hard way, and the Ryel Saga's ending fulfills with bittersweet irony the prophesy uttered by one of the story's most equivocal characters: 'You will have what you wish, but not as you wished it." The novel I'm now finishing, Faustine, is grounded in myth and legend, with a female protagonist embroiled in the classic diabolical bargain.*

The other day I was browsing the free movie site Veoh and to my happiness found one of my all-time favorite films, Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête. I hadn't seen it in many years, and while I loved every moment of the re-acquaintance, I especially savored being able to replay the Beast sequences to my heart's delight. Everything about the Beast is riveting--his feral grace, his dark bejeweled Cavalier garb, his growly voice's savage inflections and courtly phrases, his ravenous desires quelled by the most tender adoration. Baroque, Byronic, utterly irresistible.

My favorite scene occurs midpoint in the film. The Beast has returned reeking from the hunt, his fangs and claws stained with fresh blood, his elegant attire muddied and torn. After a moment's hesitation he shoves open the door to Beauty's chamber and scans the room with burning eyes.

But Beauty is absent. "Ou est Belle?" he shouts in rage and terror to her mirror; and the glass reveals her robed like an angel, listening at the door. When she returns to the chamber and demands that he leave, the Beast, quelled by her fearless indignation, stammers that he merely wished to offer her a present, and it forms by magic in his bloodied hairy hand: three strands of great pearls, the gems of innocence clasped by diamond roses, reminding us that until Beauty came into his life the Beast considered roses 'the things I most love in all the world ' (ce que j'aime le mieux au monde). Disregarding the gift, Beauty again orders the Beast to leave; but her tone is more gentle the second time.

As he departs without a backward glance, his steps unsteady, the Beast passes a statue of a nymph; his hand grips its shoulder for support, then slowly travels downward to caress the bare marble breast of the image in a poignant gesture of regret and yearning. I'd never noticed this before, and it gave me chills, for it is the only overtly sensual act in the entire film, and leaves no doubt as to the Beast's intentions.

Since 1946 when this enrapturing film was made, cinema has become a thousandfold more complex, but no amount of special effects can take the place of heart. See it if you haven't yet, and watch it again if you have; one can never have too much beauty.


(Click the photos to enlarge them; they deserve it!)

*Update, 17 December 2013: This book was completed in 2012 and published under the title Queen of Time. It's currently available digitally and in paperback at most online booksellers; the first chapters can be read gratis at my website Carolyn Kephart: Tales of Love and Magic.

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