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DeNitto, D. (1976). Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. Am. Imago, 33(2):123-154.

(1976). American Imago, 33(2):123-154

Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast

Dennis DeNitto, Ph.D.

Since its release in 1946, Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête) has become a film classic celebrated for its cinematic beauty. A typical evaluation is that by Georges Sadoul: “A sumptuous film fantasy, superbly photographed.” Many viewers, however, have felt intimations that the film contains a symbolic dimension that goes beyond what Cocteau repeatedly referred to as solely a visual rendering of a fairy tale. In Beauty and the Beast, a pavilion of treasure and a key to it play a significant role. I believe that the film itself can be considered an elegant pavilion of mysteries and ambiguities and the key is a psychoanalytic interpretation.

It is necessary before justifying this assertion that I mention two difficulties I had to deal with in writing about the film. First, 16mm prints of Beauty and the Beast can be rented and the screenplay is in print, but I cannot depend on my readers having either readily available. I will, therefore, describe as well as analyze the film. Furthermore, since much of a film's overtones, even its fundamental meaning, are conveyed to us visually, I must indicate the cinematic techniques used by Cocteau.

Secondly, a feature film is inevitably a group project; therefore, it is not always possible to assign responsibility for a film's basic themes and their development. We can in the case of Beauty and the Beast, however, refer to Cocteau as its author or auteur. He not only directed the film, but also wrote the screenplay.

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