Friday, 4 July 2008

Mr Gnome's must-see movies - La Belle et la Bête

Naturally enough, 'less is more' is one of Mr Gnome's most deeply held beliefs. Few films could give greater proof of this maxim than Jean Cocteau's 1946 masterpiece.

Working with a minuscule budget, Jean Cocteau was obliged to make a virtue of necessity. No cash for elaborate sets? No problem. He poured what little he had into exquisite costumes, props and, of course, the amazing make-up that transformed actor Jean Marais into the eponymous monster.

Frequently shooting against backgrounds of inky blackness, Cocteau creates an atmosphere that is by turns enchanting and terrifying: I saw the film first as a child and have never forgotten the impression created by scene after scene - the living statues, Beauty's extraordinary floating progress down an endless corridor, the disturbing sensuality of the Beast lapping water from Beauty's cupped hands.

Above all, there's the charge created by the relationship between the exquisite heroine and the strange, ambivalent, tortured Beast. Extraordinary.

This amazing, magical, utterly bizarre film got under my skin almost fifty years ago, And it's still there.

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