La Belle et la Bete Blu-ray review

The 1991 animated Disney version may be better known today, but French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau's 1946 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast remains the most enchanting (and influential) cinematic retelling of the classic fairy tale.

However, Cocteau's masterpiece is no mere children's film (something spelt out by an opening preamble that directly addresses an adult audience), with the filmmaker making the Beast's fight against his more animalistic urges a key part of the story – which also fits with the unexpectedly sensual atmosphere that often pervades the film.

The most striking aspect remains its baroque production design; the Beast's castle is a palace of wonders, where doors can talk and the arms that stick out of the walls holding candelabras turn out to be real human limbs.

Against this, there's always the chance that the actors could get lost in the mix. However, Josette Day's stylised performance as Belle (constantly moving from one painterly pose to another) feels completely at home in the world the film creates. Meanwhile, behind the fantastic makeup, Jean Marais's Bête (described by Sir Christopher Frayling as 'an anguished Puss in Boots' in his commentary) unexpectedly provides the story's humanity.

Picture: In its second incarnation (see next paragraph), this BFI Blu-ray is a real beauty. The 4K restoration undertaken by SNC/Groupe M6 and Cinémathèque Français in 2013 clearly improves on the master used for the 2011 Region A Criterion Collection release in a number of areas, including black levels, density and detailing.

Unfortunately, the BFI’s initial release of this Blu-ray was hampered by an encoding issue that resulted in unsightly macro blocking rearing its head in a number of scenes. While not completely ruinous, for anybody watching the disc in a darkened room on a large screen or projector, the issue was quite pronounced. At the time of our original review in HCC 290 (October 2018) we stated ‘Here's hoping the BFI addresses the issue with a re-pressing in the not-too-distant future.’ The good news is that the BFI has done just that and the replacement disc is everything we had hoped for, showcasing the strengths of the divine 4K restoration, while completely eliminating the encoding issue. Outside of a genuine 4K release, it’s hard to believe how La Belle et la Bete could look any better than it does now on this Blu-ray release.

If you have already picked up the faulty version of the Blu-ray, click here for more information on the disc replacement scheme the BFI is currently running.
Picture rating: 5/5

Audio: The LPCM 2.0 mono track has also been cleaned up and serves the film well given the slightly flat nature of the source material. Georges Auric's score is the real highlight here, retaining a beautiful presence throughout with exquisite range and tonality.
Audio rating: 3.5/5

Extras: As well as the aforementioned commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling, the BFI's Blu-ray offers up a 51-minute French documentary about the making of the film; a 24-minute featurette about Cocteau's working relationship with designer Christian Berard; three deleted scenes (two of which only survive as audio); two trailers; and a 1938 French claymation adaptation of Bluebeard, Barbe Bleu, directed by sculptor Rene Bertrand and produced by Jean Painleve. The Blu-ray also comes bundled with an illustrated booklet.
Extras rating: 3.5/5

We say: A stunning Blu-ray release for Cocteau's classic fantasy film – and a big thumbs up to the BFI for recognising the problem with its initial release and sorting out replacement discs so quickly.

La Belle et la Bete, BFI, Region B BD, £20