Review: Beauty and the Beast (La belle et la bête)
PLOT: After giving up her freedom to appease her father's debt, a young woman is held captive by a monstrous beast. Soon, the two find solace and an unusual romance in this French-German adaptation of a classic.
REVIEW: It’s a tale as old as time, one that continues to be told. While we wait for the live action version of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST featuring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, there is yet another take with Christophe Gans La belle et la bête. Finally hitting the US courtesy of Shout! Factory, the French version of this classic is at times satisfying, and occasionally a beautiful telling - even if the overuse of CG is a little tedious. The 2014 feature also happens to have an impressive cast with Vincent Cassel as the titular monster, and the lovely Léa Seydoux offering up the beauty. While the PG-13 allows for a slighly darker version - with a little more death - it is still a suitably family friendly recreation.
When a wealthy merchant (André Dussollier) must sell his home and belongings after nearly his entire fortune is lost at sea, he must move his family to a small country estate. While five of his six children are mortified that they’ve lost their lavish lifestyle, his youngest daughter Belle (Léa Seydoux) relishes her new modest home. Her only request, a single red rose. One day, the merchant finds himself lost in the forest, where he discovers a hidden castle with treasures and a wondrous meal. All of it he is seemingly free to take, except the beauty on display in a private rose garden. When he steals a prize for Belle, a mysterious Beast (Cassel) forces him to be of service in his hideaway. He is awarded one day to say goodbye to his family, yet without his consent, Belle takes it upon herself to go in his place leaving him behind. Thus, the classic romance begins.
Christophe Gans (BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, SILENT HILL) has created a fanciful feature film from this fairy tale. The visuals are at times quite impressive, yet much too much emphasis is placed on CG. For every image of the magnificent hidden castle, you have the silly little monsters that sneak around or some other computer generated nonsense. Still, you have to give credit to the production design and effects team to make some memorable sequences.
As far as performances go, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR star Seydoux is vivacious as Belle. The actress charms as a young woman who is fearless against the monster keeping her hostage. And while her stay soon becomes partially her own choice, she makes the character work. Since you don’t have a story without a beast, the incredibly talented Cassel is a perfect choice for the mysterious creature. The actor, mostly unrecognizable, adds gravitas to his skilled performance. Since much of the film is focused on the two of them, it helps that they are so well matched. However, when the focus is on Belle’s bratty siblings, this romance loses some of its potency.
The script by Gans and Sandra Vo-Anh is a mixed bag. Sometimes the dialogue feels especially silly. The cattiness and selfish nature of Belle’s siblings would have worked better if they were children - they are not. However, it was far more convincing when it came to Belle and her beastly host. This particular telling of a classic really is pretty to look at, but it’s heart doesn’t really beat until Seydoux and Cassel take charge.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (La belle et la bête) is not a perfect fairy tale, yet there is something worthwhile in it’s recreation of a classic. Both of the film’s leads are inspired, and the visuals are often quite gorgeous. Yes, the CG isn’t perfect, actually far from it, but it sometimes works in favor of the romance. This is the kind of adaptation that might be worth entertaining the family to see a different take on a classic. It may not be the most splendid version, but there is certainly beauty in this beast.