Richly textured frames and powerfully considered performances define Jean-Pierre Melville’s emotionally complex, and aptly titled Les Enfants Terribles. A considered examination of the depravity of youth mingled with the inexorable connection shared by siblings, Melville (by way of the writer who chose him to direct, Jean Cocteau) seeks to hypnotize, confound, and, above all, entertain his captivated audience.
A darkened figure, framed by the outstretched arms of barren trees, stands pensively atop a hill facing an apparent catafalque. As Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in A minor mournfully plays behind the opening credits, Melville draws his audience ever closer for the dramatic modern opera in which they are about to become entranced. Jean Cocteau has taken the job of narrating the film adaptation of his novel, and does so with a calm, unaffected demeanor. A blanket of snow covers the streets of Paris, inciting a snowball fight between groups of schoolboys. A chance shot from the beguilingly handsome Dargelos (Renée Cosima) strikes fellow classmate Paul (Edouard Dermithe) in his illness-weakened chest. Brought home to rest, Paul is forced to take a leave of absence from school, and stay home with his invalid mother, and bombastic sister, Elisabeth (Nicole Stéphane).
Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête), Jean Cocteau’s follow up to his surrealist masterpiece The Blood of a Poet, is an astounding achievement in postwar filmmaking, which benefits greatly from Cocteau’s directorial tendencies and prowess. Incredibly vivid images permeate the film, as does Cocteau’s penchant for visual effects and beauty. Shot using a mixture of film stocks, as supply was limited after the war, and with a staggered production schedule due to an illness Cocteau suffered during filming, Beauty and the Beast somehow benefits from the reality-altering stock changes, and directorial stand-in (René Clément replaced Cocteau while he was in the hospital).
Beauty and the Beast is, of course, based on the story penned by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Belle (Josette Day) lives with her struggling father, layabout brother, and two (this is a fairytale, remember) evil step sisters. When Belle’s father loses his way in the forest, he comes upon a slowly-decaying castle. Searching the premises, he picks a single rose to as a gift for his beloved daughter, when a Beast lumbers out of the forest. Threatening the man’s life, Beast (Jean Marais) proposes that either the old man dies, or he must send one of his daughters in his place. Upon hearing her father’s predicament, Belle makes the decision for him, and rides off into the woods to her unknown fate.