La belle et la bête
Cocteau’s artistry stands the test of time in his masterpiece rendition of the classic fairytale, “Beauty and the Beast.” Beneath his fanciful sets and costumes, surrealist settings, and creative camera techniques lies a narrative format that perfectly encapsulates every aspect of what a fairytale should be, and in a film format, no less.
Fairytales, which are traditionally either bound in a book or kept by word of mouth, are objective. There is an omniscient narrator describing every plight of our heroes. Here, Cocteau keeps up with this tradition without actually introducing a narrator. Instead, he primarily maintains objectivity and restriction in his storytelling. We see characters and their pursuits, but never truly see inside their heads. Belle’s feelings towards the beast revolve around her actions and words. As she cups a scoop of water for him to drink or pets his head, she conveys to the audience her emotions. This inference gives her a both complexity and believability in developing her character.
This is not to say that Cocteau avoids the crucial point of view shot. Scenes often become perceptually subjective in the way it is filmed to add to the suspense, such as the view of a statue drawing an arrow to shoot down Adélaïde. This particular scene is also unrestricted, which is uncommon in most of the film. We know something Adélaïde does not: his impending doom. In a similar, yet more restricted scene, the father is exploring the grand estate and both he and the audience is surprised when the beast appears. Both executions have different effects. The prior is one of suspense, the latter one of surprise.
Cocteau uses all these narrative techniques wherever most appropriate, creating superb balance of fantastical story telling and filmmaking. Furthermore, a traditional progression of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution becomes clear and exact right down to the very shape of the pyramid. He may cheat the viewers’ belief in reality (deriving from his surrealist aspirations), but he never cheats what is crucial to adapting a fairytale onscreen.