Sunday, November 16, 2014


Release date (India):
November 14, 2014
Christophe Gans

Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, André Dussollier
English (French film dubbed in English)

The French fairytale Beauty and The Beast is a brooding, emotionally wrenching story bearing the message that true beauty lies within. Poignant and tender for children, profound and layered for adults, there’s a reason why it has survived so many hundreds of years. This latest version is shorn of the emotion and depth of the original, but is so violent and so intentionally disturbing that you have to wonder who it is aimed at – adults, children, or neither?

It has to be said though that Christophe Gans’ retelling of this classic is visually spectacular in every frame. From the gowns worn by the women, especially the protagonist Belle, to the Beast’s magnificent magical palace, the mysterious surrounding grounds, the initial introduction to the Beast himself particularly when he is in flight, those stone giants in battle, and the vast snow-laden French countryside, everything about La Belle Et La Bete (the French title) is rich and lavish and impressive.

As it happens, the spectacle dwarfs all else in the story including the lovely lesson that made it memorable enough to travel to us down the centuries. The two lead actors are unable to summon up any chemistry between them, and not because he is buried in his animal costume through much of the film. The lack of sparks between them has more to do with the fact that there’s nothing in the script to explain why this considerate and beautiful woman would fall in love with this awful man whose ugly visage is irrelevant in the face of his harshness towards her.

In the original fairytale, as Belle gets to know the Beast over a period of time, they become good friends. In this film, they hardly talk. Instead, he showers her with pretty clothes and jewellery, doesn’t spend much time with her, is mean to her almost all the time that they are together, frightens the hell out of her, and one day almost rapes her. He also yells at her at one point that she has no choice but to fall for him in time. So when she does ultimately declare her love for him, I found myself thinking of Stockholm Syndrome rather than matters of the heart.

As in the classic fairytale, the film too is about a widowed merchant who loses his ships at sea and is impoverished overnight. The man has three daughters – two selfish girls and the kind, generous, thoughtful Belle (Lea Seydoux). One day, when their father gets news that one of his ships has been found, he takes off to town to reclaim his lost wealth. Buoyed at the thought of being affluent again, the elder girls ask their father to return with clothes and cosmetics for them, but Belle only wants a rose. Alas, the merchant’s ship is seized by the authorities. While on his way home, he chances upon a palace filled with food, jewels and other treasure. With no one in sight, the merchant gathers gifts for his daughters but is attacked by the owner – a fearsome half-man-half-animal (Vincent Cassel) – when he picks a flower from the garden for Belle. He is released on the promise that he will come back. When Belle hears of this, she goes to the palace in her father’s place and thence begins the romance that is at the heart of this story.

Possibly in a bid to add more conflict and drama to the raw material at hand, Gans and co-writer Sandra Vo-Anh have given Belle three brothers and the Beast a back story that unfolds on screen in Belle’s dreams. Not enough thought has been devoted to the screenplay though, leaving questions unanswered and loose ends hanging. For instance, when Belle enters the palace, we see swarms of small, saucer-eyed, dog-like creatures lurking about everywhere. They will end up being Belle’s best friends one day, says the voiceover. But that friendship never happens. It’s also hard not to wonder whether Belle falls in love with the actual Beast before her eyes or becomes open to the idea of falling in love with the hairy fella because her dreams reveal that he was once a handsome prince. If it’s the latter, then the entire point of the Beauty and The Beast saga is lost, is it not? Pffft!

The film’s reliable leads deserve better. Cassel is a Cesar Award-winning French actor whose acting muscle Hollywood audiences witnessed when he played the artistic director of the ballet troupe in Black Swan. Almost 20 years his junior, Lea Seydoux is also an award-winning French star who has made several Hollywood appearances but would be best known to film buffs worldwide for her role in the Palm d’Or-winning French film Blue Is The Warmest Colour. The massive age gap between them serves no particular purpose in this story. With limited writing to rely on, Cassel strides about the film in flashback, being so aggressive that you wonder why Belle is attracted even to the chap in her dreams; and Seydoux shows us none of the depth she is capable of, being reduced here instead to a beauty with marble-like smooth skin and an awesome bosom.

The atmospherics in Beauty and The Beast are amazing, as are the sets and costume design. After a while though, the grandeur ceases to please. Extravagant images are of little use if they leave you cold, confused and disappointed.

Rating (out of five): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
MPAA Rating (US):
114 minutes
Not released yet in the US
Release date in France:
February 12, 2014

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