Written by: Michael Den Boer on October 6th, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: France, 1974
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Writer: Walerian Borowczyk
Cast: Lise Danvers, Fabrice Luchini, Charlotte Alexandra, Paloma Picasso, Pascale Christophe, Florence Bellamy, Jacopo Berinizi, Lorenzo Berinizi, Philippe Desboeuf, Marie Forså, Sirpa Lane
BluRay released: September 8th, 2014
Approximate running times: 98 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono French
BluRay Release: Arrow Academy
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £15.99 (UK)
Synopsis: Lucy Broadhurst is an American heiress who travels to France with her aunt. She is going to France to meet her future husband Mathurin de l’Esperance for the first time. They have only spoken via the letters they wrote each other. The de l’Esperance’s were once wealthy French aristocrats who have fallen on hard time and now they are placing the burden of reclaiming their former glory on the shoulders of Mathurin. After Lucy’s arrival, there is so much to do with only a matter of days to prepare before the date preordain for her and Mathurin’s wedding. While Lucy waits for her wedding day she dreams of the former lady of the house Romilda de l’Esperance who had a sexual encounter with beast. Will Lucy try to forget these things she has dreamed or have they aroused a desire that has always been hidden deep within her?
The Beast was originally conceived as part of Walerian Borowczyk’s anthology film Immoral Tales, under the title The True Story of the Beast of Gevaudan. From there Borowczyk took the original short film and expanded into a feature length film.
Very few films grab your attention with its opening moments like The Beast does. The film opens with the sound of horses getting ready to copulate while credits appear over a black backdrop. Then once the first images actually arrive, they are of a male horse who pursues then mounts his female prey. This scene like the dream sequence which happens later on in the film are not for the faint of heart as we are shown in graphic detail the mating process of horses.
From a narrative stand point things are actually straight forward and when the notorious dream sequence finally arrives it is told in such a way that it effortlessly blends into the story at hand. Everyone’s intentions and desires are made crystal clear.
On the surface, though the beast only appears in the flesh in this film’s protagonists’ dreams after she reads a dairy from a descendant that live where she is staying two hundred years before. When in her reality when she pleasures herself as she imagines the beast ravaging her ancestor, she is also at the same time unlocking her own beast, her repressed sexual desires.
Performance wise outside of this film’s two leading ladies Lisbeth Hummel and Sirpa Lane (Beast in Space), none of the other cast leave a lasting impression. These other performances are mere pawns in the grander scheme of things. And of the two leading ladies Hummel gets the much larger screen time and thus is given much more to do. With that being said, she gives the better-rounded and thus the most satisfying performance in the film. Also there is a real growth in her character that is lacking in the rest of the characters. And despite the fact that her presence is only limited to one sequence in which her character never utters a word, in the end it is Lane’s performance that majority will remember.
The majority of Borowczyk’s films are laced with black humor and though The Beast is an adult fairy tale in which eroticism plays a key role. One must not undervalue the importance that humor plays in this film.
Walerian Borowczyk has a distinct visual eye that is lyrical and lucid. Everything about The Beast is done with the utmost care and each scene is beautifully photographed by cinematography by Bernard Daillencourt. Overall The Beast is a truly unique film from a one of a kind artist.
The Beast comes on a 50 GB dual layer (37.9 GB) BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. Just like the other four Walerian Borowczyk releases from Arrow Academy. There has been extensive restoration work done for the brand new 2k transfer that is used for this release. Colors look accurate, flesh tones look healthy, black and contrast levels look consistently great throughout. Details always look crisp and grain looks natural. And though the short film ‘The True Story of the Beast of Gevaudan’, which is featured as a dream sequence in this film was shot by a different cinematographer. The clarity during the dream sequence is on par with the rest of the film. Also there are no issues with compression or DNR.
This release comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in French and removable English subtitles have also been included with this release. There are no issues with distortion or background noise and the more ambient aspects of the soundtrack are well represented. Also dialog always comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced.
Extras for this release include an introduction to the film with film critic Peter Bradshaw (1 minute 45 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen), a trailer for the film (3 minutes 54 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in French with English subtitles), an animated short film directed by Borowczyk titled ‘Venus on the Half-Shell’ (4 minutes 40 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in French with English subtitles), a segment titled ‘Frenzy of the Beast’ (4 minutes 20 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen) which documents The Beast’s design and its unmade sequel and a documentary titled ‘The Making of The Beast’ (57 minutes 53 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen) that contains on-set footage which is narrated by cameraman Noël Véry, who gives a well-rounded overview of the various areas of this production.
Other extras include two versions of a documentary about erotic artifacts titled ‘A Private Collection’ (12 minutes 12 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in French with English subtitles) and ‘A Private Collection: Oberhausen Cut’ (14 minutes 31 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, in French with English subtitles).
Rounding out the extras is a reversible covert art and thirty two page booklet that contains information about the cast and crew, contemporary reviews for the film, two essays about the film, the first one titled ‘Lucy’s Love’ written by Daniel Bird and the second one titled ‘That Hairy Monster’ written by David Thompson. Other content included in this booklet include an essay about Venus on the Half-Shell, an essay about the UK’s censorship of this film titled ‘The BBFC and The Beast’ written by Craig Lapper and information about the restoration work done for this release.
The Beast is also part of a box set entitled Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection which also includes the following films, Walerian Borowczyk Short Films and Animation, Goto, Isle of Love, Blanche and Immoral Tales. This box set also included a generously illustrated book edited by Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke featuring new essays, landmark articles by Raymond Durgnat, Philip Strick, Patrice Leconte, David Thompson and Chris Newby, Boro’s Dictionary, an account of the restoration of Borowczyk films and Anatomy of the Devil, a collection of Borowczyk’s short stories translated from the original French by the filmmaker’s assistant, Michael Levy. This release was limited to 1,000 copies and is now OOP. Fortunately the five release which make up this set are available in standalone releases and they contain the exact same content that their counterparts from the box set included. Overall another first rate release from Arrow Academy that comes with a wealth of extra content, highly recommended.