Beauty and the Beast
Jean Cocteau's return to directing after World War II resurrected a medieval fairy tale and transformed it into an elegant work of supreme imagination in the most modern of media. When a merchant happens upon the grounds of an ancient castle and gets caught committing a petty theft, he is held captive by its owner, the feared Beast (Jean Marais). The merchant's youngest daughter, Beauty (Josette Day), takes her father's place in captivity, where she gradually learns that external grotesquery can shroud profound internal grace. This (subtitled) French-language Beauty and the Beast holds up amazingly well nearly a half-century later, even when set against a Disney version whose popularity threatens to overshadow all other renditions. The romance here remains strongly affecting, and Cocteau's gorgeous black-and-white visuals still elicit gasps. The film's lighting has attracted particular notoriety: The candlelit castle scenes, Gothic in the grandest sense of the word and reportedly crafted in tribute to Vermeer, are textbook examples of deceptive simplicity in film composition.