Beauty and the Beast [La belle et la bête]

(France 1946)

“I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity, and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s open sesame: Once upon a time…”

— Jean Cocteau

I’m familiar with Jean Cocteau. Somehow, I never saw one of his films until this sold out Sunday matinee screening of La belle et la bête, a story I know well and probably would have passed on but for the fact that he directed it.

Belle (Josette Day) loves her father (Marcel André), a merchant who twice loses a fortune, so much that she steps in to save him when he angers the Beast (Jean Marais) by picking a rose from his garden to bring home to her. The Beast abandons his plan to kill her to avenge the sin of her father as soon as he sees her — he’s smitten. He’s so ugly, though, that Belle faints when she sees him.

Belle wakes up inside a room in his castle, where the Beast executes an alternate plan: every night at dinner he will ask her to marry him. As it turns out, he’s filthy rich and wants Belle to be his queen. She develops a soft spot for him as time goes on, but Belle’s answer is always the same: no. Apparently, she doesn’t love him.

When she learns that her father is dying, the Beast allows Belle to visit her family. He gives her a magic glove that transports her wherever she wants to go and the key to his fortune. Realizing how rich the Beast really is, Belle’s conniving siblings, sisters Adélaïde (Nane Germon) and Felicie (Mila Parély) and brother Ludovic (Michel Auclair), take Belle on a treacherous turn.

Wow! Entrancing and mesmerizing, Cocteau’s La belle et la bête is an impressively cool film, far from the family-oriented Disney musical version that seems to be the default. At times grotesque, surreal, and very imaginative, it’s a darker telling of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 18th century classic adaptation of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original fable (I never thought about where the story came from until I wrote this entry).

The lovely Day is perfect as Belle: kind yet knowing, she plays her character as something of a girl next door fatale. Marais evokes compassion for his character, even with a mask covering his face. Lucien Carré and René Moulaert’s otherworldly sets and Pierre Cardin’s Victorian wardrobe are both tailor made for Henri Alekan’s grizzled, shadowy, and hard black and white cinematography. Something about the time when this came out — immediately after WWII — enhances the overall eerie feel of this film. I can’t come up with enough superlatives to describe it.

Cocteau is buried beneath the floor of the Chapelle Saint-Blaise des Simples in Milly-la-Forêt ( A plaque marking his gravesite states, “Je reste avec vous” (“I stay with you”). It’s a fitting epitaph for the director of this particular version of La Belle et la Bete, which will stay with me. It’s a haunting beauty to behold.

With Raoul Marco

Production: DisCina

Distribution: DisCina (France), Actueel Film (Netherlands), Nederland NV (Netherlands), Wivefilm (Sweden), Internationale Filmallianz (IFA) (Germany), Artfree (Greece), Lopert Films (USA)

93 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) A

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

(USA 2015)

If you were to pull out the chapters on modernism from an art history textbook and shuffle them together with Confidential magazine, the result no doubt would look a lot like Lisa Immordino Vreeman’s Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict. Guggenheim led a colorful life—literally and figuratively—filled with art, sex, and a fair amount of darkness.

With audio from a tape recorded interview—Guggenheim’s last—presumed lost until found in a basement during the making of this film, Guggenheim herself in her clipped, matter-of-fact way discusses her childhood, her time in Paris during the 1920s, her abusive marriage to Laurence Vail that ended in divorce after seven years, her relationship with her two children, her sex life, and her entry into the art world. She hung out with the likes of Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein. She tricked with, inter alia, Marcel Duchamp, John Holms (not a porn star), Samuel Beckett, and Max Ernst (to whom she was married for a short time). She was among the first to show many artists, including Vasily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko, Robert de Niro, Sr. (father of the actor), Arshile Gorky, and Jackson Pollock, whose “discovery” she was most proud to claim.

For all her antics, though, Guggenheim’s life was not all fun and games. Her father went down with the Titanic when she was 13 years old. Vail “hit” her. Holms, who she said was the love of her life (despite the fact that he was married), died after a routine hand surgery. She had seven abortions. She wound up estranged from her son, Sinbad, and her daughter, Pagette, died under mysterious circumstances at age 40. To top it all off, she had a nose job that didn’t turn out right; she never fixed it because the experience was too physically painful.

Immordino Vreeman does an excellent job balancing Guggenheim’s considerable achievements with salacious details of her life, giving just enough to keep us tuned in. The gossip doesn’t overshadow the fact that Guggenheim, however flawed, was a fascinating woman way ahead of her time. Illuminating, fun, and never a dull moment, I enjoyed Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict very much.

(Music Box) B+