Beauty and the Beast (1978) Juraj Herz

Beauty and the Beast (1978) 
aka Panna a netvor
Genre: Fantasy | Horror | Mystery | Arthouse 
Country: Czechoslovakia | Director: Juraj Herz
Language: Czech | Subtitles: English (Optional, embedded in Mkv file)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 | Length: 87mn
Dvdrip H264 Mkv - 781x572 - 25fps - 1.09gb

A more horrific and gloomy version of The Beauty and the Beast. Julie is a bankrupt merchant's daughter who as the only one of the three daughters chooses to save her father's life by going to the Haunted Wood's Castle where she meets Netvor. He wants to kill her, but her beauty prevents him from that. Although she is forbidden to see him she starts to love him and the love rescues him from his curse.

This is quite simply a wonderful interpretation of the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, produced and filmed in the then Czechoslovakia. Cinematic gems can be found in what may be thought to be unlikely places, and this film is an example.

Students of cinema may be aware that Cocteau did a version of this story in B&W, and there is of course the more recent and rather tame Disney version. This film is a very different proposition. For a start, it is unsuitable for young children because of some fairly graphic violence, including scenes of animal cruelty. The film-makers seem to strive for realism, particularly the scenes in the village where Beauty (here called Julie) lives, all mud and images of earthy rural life before the Industrial Revolution. But even the magical bits are portrayed realistically. The Beast's castle is maintained by an array of goblin-like servants, who skulk in the shadows of the fireplaces and chandeliers. If I have one complaint about this film, it is that the scenes are sometimes so dark that it is difficult to see what's happening. This does heighten tension, but it can be overdone.

The actors are great, especially the two charismatic leads. The Beast (Vlastimil Harapes) is fashioned more as a great bird of prey than Cocteau's leonine creation, and there is great suspense as he struggles with his inner violent nature (a sinister whispering voice) that is urging him to remain in his beastly form and kill the innocent Julie. Julie (Zdena Studenková) in turn is wonderfully portrayed. We can see why she is so obviously her father's favourite.

Fairy tales are expositions of the human condition, and the Beauty and the Beast story is no different. "Every woman has the power the make the one she loves beautiful". It's a simple theme, but this film explores it beautifully.

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