classic film

Five-star cinema: Jean Cocteau’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’

This magical adaptation of a popular fairy tale is aimed at children and the romantics within all of us.

The movie production studio Disney has monopolised the business of fairy tale adaptation for so many decades that it is sometimes hard to remember that there are alternate – and better – versions of Cinderella (such as Lotte Reiniger’s animated film) and Alice in Wonderland (Jan Švankmajer has a delightful version, Alice). Having exhausted its saccharine servings of magic-laden stories of princes¸ princesses and talking beasts, Disney is now spicing up its adaptations. Frozen (2013) was about the love between sisters rather than a man and a woman, while Maleficent rebooted the Sleeping Beauty tale from the point of view of the antagonist, depicted here as a wronged woman rather than a cracked witch. A new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, which follows the popular 1999 animated version by Disney, is scheduled for 2017, and an early teaser has already notched up an incredible number of views.

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The teaser of Disney’s latest version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

One of the definitive versions of the French fairy tale titled La Belle et la Bête and written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 was made as early as 1946. A testament to French filmmaker Jean Cocteau’s visual imagination, the French black-and-white movie brims with magic, wit and artistry. Cocteau uses elementary visual tricks to create a fairy tale that is aimed at children and the romantics within all of us. The opening credits indicate that what will follow will not be a textbook version of the popular story – the names of the cast and crew are written in chalk on a blackboard.

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The trailer of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ by Jean Cocteau.

The 93-minute movie follows the sacrifice of the noble and wise Belle (Josette Day), who volunteers to take her father’s place in order to please the conditions imposed by a man-beast with a lion’s face (Jean Marais). Belle’s father is a merchant on the skids, and he chances upon the beast’s magical castle while returning from a failed deal. The doors open of their own volition, hands hold out candles and pour out the wine, and the busts and statues have eyes and an amused expression.

Belle arrives at the castle to take her father’s place and placate the beast in a gorgeous and graceful slow-motion sequence. She glides through the corridor with the animated candle-sticks and past billowing curtains in wonderment, inexorably drawn to her fate.

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Belle arrives at the castle.

Belle faints when she sees the beast, as any well-brought up woman would do, but soon begins to appreciate his uprightness and empathise with his loneliness. She spurns his daily offer of marriage, and shrinks in horror when he literally burns for her (one of the movie’s many sly jokes). The actors move about as though in a pantomime production and the oneiric mood relents only when Belle returns to her hardscrabble surroundings. Her vehicle is a magical glove, which beams her from the castle to the wall of her home in seconds.

Belle returns home.
Belle returns home.

Beauty and the Beast was made a few years before Cocteau’s masterpiece, Orpheus, a version of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Among that movie’s legacies is the repeated motif of Orpheus walking backwards in slow motion, which was used in Enigma’s music video “End of Innocence”.

Disney spends millions of dollars in dressing up its productions, and the new version of Beauty and the Beast is likely to have the bravura special effects that the studio is famed for. However, the depiction of memorable fantasy requires imagination rather than money, as Cocteau’s simple yet moving version proves. Everything is magical in his lustrous production. Even the white horse that brings Belle to the castle has glitter in its mane. Henri Alekan’s cinematography bathes Belle and the beast in soft light. When Belle weeps, her tears emerge as diamonds from her eyes – a simple yet poetic gesture in a movie that has no shortage of them.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.