Watch The Beast
- 1 hr 38 min
The Beast (French: La Bête), released in 1975, is a controversial and imaginative French erotic fantasy horror film directed by Walerian Borowczyk. The film blends eroticism with a touch of the supernatural and a foray into dark fantasy. It stars Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, and Elisabeth Kaza in significant roles, and through its narrative, it pushes the boundaries of the genres it encompasses.
Set primarily on the palatial French estate of a decadent aristocratic family, The Beast opens with the arrival of an innocent and beautiful American heiress named Lucy Broadhurst, played by Lisbeth Hummel. She is set to marry the family’s heir, Mathurin de l'Esperance, in an arranged alliance that promises to merge two wealthy bloodlines and restore the fortunes of the de l'Esperance family. However, upon arrival, Lucy is caught in a web of surreal experiences and dark secrets that seem to infect the sprawling estate.
The film is known for its heavy use of symbolism and a multi-layered approach to storytelling, divvying up the plot into a series of vignette-like events. Early on, the narrative shifts to a story within a story, focusing on a tale from the de l'Esperance family's past, which weaves an erotic legend involving the titular creature. This backstory is relayed to Lucy through the diary of Romilda de l'Esperance, played by Sirpa Lane, an ancestor of the family, who encountered the beast a century earlier.
The mythical beast in question is depicted as a large, wolf-like creature that roams the estate's forests — a haunting apparition that casts a shadow over the estate’s denizens. Its legend is ripe with sensuality and primal fears, symbolizing uncontrollable desires and the clash of culture against nature’s raw forces. The diary sequences featuring Sirpa Lane are portrayed with an intensity that is both dreamlike and visceral, echoing elements of erotic fantasy.
Borowczyk’s direction moves between the sexual awakening of Lucy in the present and the ancestral narrative from the diary entries, creating a sense of cyclical time where the past bleeds into the present. The film flirts with the boundaries of genre cinema and art-house experimentation, and the director's penchant for exquisite detail is evident in the lavish costume and set designs that evoke a sense of period elegance amidst the underlying themes of bestiality and taboo desires.
Elisabeth Kaza features as Virginia, a character in the present-day storyline who embodies the traditional expectations of the period and serves as an anchor to the decaying moral fabric of the aristocratic lineage she is part of. She represents the norms and forces that Lucy must navigate as she confronts her own blossoming sexuality against the backdrop of a family with dark, hidden urges.
The cinematography, which captures both the grandeur of the estate and the lushness of the adjacent forest, plays a significant role in illustrating the juxtaposition of the civilized and the wild. It is in these contrasts where the movie finds its unique narrative rhythm, oscillating between the ornate interiors of the mansion and the untamed, mysterious exterior where the beast allegedly resides.
The Beast does not shy away from explicit content, and the film's release was marred by censorship issues in various countries due to its graphic sexual scenes. While these elements have contributed to its cult status and notoriety over the years, it’s important to note that the film is not merely provocative for the sake of shock value. Instead, it uses its erotic charge and juxtaposed elements to explore deeper themes of human desire, repression, and decadence.
Borowczyk’s style has been described as provocative and avant-garde, with a unique ability to blend artistry with cinematic taboos. The Beast is exemplary of his willingness to explore the darker, more controversial corners of human behavior and sexuality. It continues to be dissected by film scholars and enthusiasts who are drawn to its challenging content and its unorthodox approach to the horror and erotic genres.
The movie's score enhances the enigmatic and sometimes disquieting atmosphere of the story. It melds classical pieces with original compositions that underscore the tension and complexities of the characters’ internal struggles and the mysterious events that unfold.
For viewers, The Beast may be seen as an allegory of liberation from societal constraints or a cautionary tale about the animalistic impulses that lurk within humanity. With its artistic merit and bold narrative choices, it stands as an artifact of 1970s cinema that provokes discussion on the nature of horror, eroticism, and the perpetual dance between civilization and wilderness. Whether seen as an imaginative fable or an indulgent display of fantasy, The Beast remains a challenging piece of cinema that refuses to be confined by the traditional boundaries of genre or taste.