Long about three years ago, I stumbled upon a trailer for a French adaptation of Beauty and the Beast starring Lea Seydoux as Belle and Vincent Cassel as the Beast.
I thought the trailer looked amazing and decided to put it in the Netflix queue. Well, it took Netflix three years to actually make this movie available. Don’t ask me why; it was annoying. But the good news is that it finally became available, and I finally got to watch it, and it was completely worth the wait.
This version is more in line with the French fairy tale–Belle’s father is a merchant who takes a rose from the Beast’s garden; the Beast issues an ultimatum that if the merchant does not return, he will kill his entire family; Belle takes her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner; Beast tries to get Belle to fall in love with him; Belle must learn to see the man behind the monster. Because the story is already so well known, however, the writers added a few extra twists to surprise the people who know and love this tale as old as time.
For example, Belle had extra motivation in taking her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner. In this version, we learn that Belle’s mother died giving birth to her, and Belle blames herself for causing her mother’s death (she also suspects her siblings think the same thing even if they’ve never told her to her face). Her unwillingness to be the cause of her father’s death, too, is what prompts her to return to the Beast’s castle in her father’s stead.
The Beast’s story is the one that sees the most changes. While staying in the castle, Belle’s dreams show her how her captor was once a prince, a prince whose love of hunting was rivaled only by his love for his wife (yes, you read that right. The Prince was married before). The ultimate goal that the Prince pursued was the Golden Deer, but his wife asked him to give up his quest because she didn’t like spending so much time alone in the castle while he was off hunting with his buddies. At first the Prince agrees to give up searching for the Golden Deer, but he later breaks his promise and continues his pursuit. When he finally corners and shoots it, the terrible truth is revealed–the Golden Deer was the true form of his wife, who was really a wood nymph (dryad?) who took human form because she wanted to experience love. As she lay dying, she begs her father, the god of the forest, to spare the Prince’s life. Instead of killing the Prince, the forest god curses him to remain trapped in the form of a beast until a woman’s love should set him free…but since the only woman who loved him was currently dead, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Oh, I should also mention that the wood nymph was pregnant, so in addition to being trapped in animal form, the Beast had to live with the guilt of knowing he was responsible for the deaths of his wife and unborn child.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this version. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I had heard mixed reviews of it, but it was incredible. The biggest complaint seemed to be that the love story between Belle and the Beast didn’t feel very well formed, but come on, people–this is a fairy tale. In fairy tales, people usually get married after two days; no one seriously expects fairy tale romances to be an accurate reflection of reality! Also, I think several complaints came from people who were expecting something more in line with the Disney version of the story. The fact is that Disney was not the first to adapt this story, and they won’t be the last. And as far as adaptations go, this 2014 version is definitely one of the better ones. In fact, part of me wonders if I’ll find the live-action Disney version underwhelming after this sumptuous, stunning film.
Eh, I’ll probably still like it. But after watching this and Jean Cocteau’s 1946 masterpiece, I’m starting to think no one can adapt this story quite like the French.