dearly hopes you will not see this French adaptation of the fairy definitively
penned by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, because just about any competitive
live action film will suffer in comparison. Of course, there is already the
Jean Cocteau masterpiece and Disney’s own exceptional animated feature.
However, for pure visual spectacle, it will be hard to equal Christophe Gans’ Beauty and the Beast (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in Los Angeles.
story is still a fairy tale, suitable for a mother to tell as a bedtime story
for her two rapt children in the film’s framing device. Belle is also still the
beauty and consequently the apple of her merchant father’s eye. Sadly, all of
the old man’s ships are lost at sea, forcing his family into provincial
poverty. Yet, clean country living agrees with Belle (but not so much with her five
home from an ill-fated attempt to recoup his fortune, the merchant takes shelter
in an ominous castle. He eats well before helping himself to some luxurious
gifts for his shallow older daughters and finally a rose for Belle—the only
gift she requested. His unseen host takes exception to this. That would be the
Beast. As punishment for his desecration, the beast sentences the merchant to
death, giving him one final day to make his farewells. However, the noble Belle
returns in his place before the distraught father can stop her.
course, the Beast is not about to kill such a fair maiden. Instead, he provides
some lovely gowns for her to wear at their awkward formal dinners. Viewers
basically know where things go from here, but instead of the arrogant Gaston,
it will be Perducas, her wastrel brother’s cutthroat underworld creditor, who
will come barging in uninvited.
time around, we also get more of the Beast’s backstory, which surprisingly
pay-offs with third act call-backs. It is a richly archetypal narrative, but
Belle’s love for the Beast blossoms way faster than Gans and co-screenwriter
Sandra Vo-Anh duly establish. Of course, we know it will happen, so apparently
they decided to let us fill in the blanks.
this Beauty and the Beast is a majestic
triumph of vision and art direction. The sets, trappings, and costumes are
wonderfully lush and detailed. Although the vibe is suitably gothic, there is a
touch of Dali in production designer Thierry Flamand’s work, especially when it
comes to the giant statues. The visual effects are also first rate, as when those
giant statues attack.
Cassel is appropriately fierce and feral as the beast, while Léa Seydoux
scratches out some direct and engaging emotional moments, which is a challenge
for a little miss perfect like Belle. The venerable André Dussollier does his
thing once again, further classing up the joint as the merchant. However, Eduardo
Noriega nearly steals the show masticating the scenery with villainous glee as
Perducas. He also nicely plays with and off Myriam Charleins as Perducas’
mysterious tarot-reading lover and co-conspirator.
Some of Belle’s siblings are a bit shticky, but
in general the ensemble acquits itself quite well. Nevertheless, the real star
of this B&B is the arresting
fantasy world Gans creates. He even gives us a passel of animation-augmented
Beagles, so good luck topping that Bill Condon and the rest of the Disney team.
Highly recommended for all fans of fairy tale and fantasy cinema, Gans’ Beauty and the Beast opens this Friday
(9/23) in Los Angeles, at the Laemmle Monica Film Center.
Labels: Andre Dussollier, Christophe Gans, Fairy tale cinema, French Cinema, Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel