A visually and emotionally captivating retelling of a fairytale classic with an unexpected twist, “Belle” is an extraordinary experience.
Told in chapters, Belle (2023) gives us a new spin on the well-known magical tale of a young woman and a beast who fall in love, shattering the spell that turned him into a beast.
The tale this time is a little different.
A spoiled, handsome prince pursues an enchantress. Finally, he offers her something she can’t refuse: a magical rose powerful enough to stop death. She accepts, and he wins his prize. But then the prince cheats on her. She curses both him and the woman to guard the rose forever unless he finds true love.
Belle comes into the story as a marriageable-age woman who was proposed to recently by a man she has known since birth who is many years older than her, which her ailing father agrees to. Naturally, Belle turns him down, and understanding her precarious situation without a father or a husband, she goes to the Beast’s cave and asks politely for the rose.
A sightless dryad, forever frozen and rooted to the floor, guards the entrance. She offers light for a journey she cannot take herself.
The Beast is a man, scruffy but handsome, who gives her the rose freely. She rushes back to the village healer with the rose, who gives it to her father, and it revives him. But there’s a catch. To make the spell last, she must give her life to the Beast and not leave his side, sacrificing her freedom for her father not to die.
Belle willingly goes and tries to help the Beast break his curse.
Filmed in Iceland, the eerie landscape weaves a beautiful pastoral spell.
The music is a siren song complimenting the nature around them that feels too ethereal to exist.
I love unique retellings of old stories when new ideas are introduced into tales as old as time. This iteration taps into the real-life horror behind the Grimm fairytale. At the time, beautiful young women were often forced to marry men they found beastly and unappealing. They weren’t allowed to pursue relationships for love but for convenience and security. They were, as a matter of speaking, cursed — cursed to live an unhappy and loveless life.
Belle would rather be bound to the handsome but cursed Beast than an old man who was there at her birth. Her frustration with her life as a powerless woman is palpable: she desires solitude but isn’t free to be alone because she’s not a man.
Belle has her work cut out for her.
The Beast in this story is a cannibal, and what turns him is unclear. I prefer this version of the Beast because, to me, it’s easier to digest and more believable. There are even Scandinavian legends of men who suddenly become animalistic, abandoning reason for blood and slaughter (Baring-Gould 27).
The film is also quite funny at times. Much of that stems from naturally awkward interactions between men and women.
This is the world I love to see onscreen, one of possibility and magic.
The real horror comes in when confronted with the tragic consequences of the curse.
Belle discovers the secret of his change, but it’s too late to stop him from ripping apart people who were kind to them. His animalistic side kills without reason, using people as food. It is not without consequence, however, because the Beast is haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed.
The Beast mirrors Belle as he screams into the air, frustrated at himself and his life as a cursed man, bound to a life he didn’t choose.
With an unexpected death and a final spell, we find the story making a significant departure from the original.
Recompense for murder is repaid, and the curse seemingly remains unbroken. Unless…maybe it has been broken, just not in the way we expected.
The movie has the feeling of an adventure we’re all on.
I adored this retelling and would recommend it to anyone who loves fairy tales and needs an injection of magic in their day-t0-day life.