“The head of a failing French family thinks that fate has smiled down on him when the daughter of a wealthy man agrees to be married to his son. The daughter and her aunt then travel out to the French countryside to meet with the family, unaware that a mysterious ‘beast’ is stalking the vicinity. “
The Beast (French: La Bête) is a French erotic comedy-horror-drama film directed by Walerian Borowczyk. Although sometimes compared with Beauty and the Beast, there are no parallels in the plot except that it features the relationship between a beast and a woman. The film did well in Europe, but the run of the film in France and the U.S. ran into controversy due to its erotic nature and show of bestiality. Many felt the film went over the top with its sex scenes, leading to its withdrawal from film for several years.
Walerian Borowczyk’s explicit and insane la Bête (The Beast) is a directly adult reflection of the sexual undertones in many fairy tales.
There are segments in la Bête that are unflinching enough to be deemed pornographic but they are done in such a silly and shocking way we cannot assume that Borowcyzk’s goals are to titillate.
I mean come on, the film opens with a close-up of a female horse’s private parts and a male horse jumps right into the mix soon thereafter. There is also a tremendous amount of (human) nudity in la Bête and while gratuitous, it does seem to be appropriate within the film, even though it isn’t necessarily erotic.
I don’t think it is possible to categorize this movie and that in and of itself is a strength for me.
From beginning to end, I had no idea what to expect.
The film takes place in the Esperance house that is awaiting a wedding between the family’s son and Lucy.
The family is full of chaos and everyone seems to have something to hide. Lucy becomes fascinated with the family’s notorious ancestor Romilda, who apparently had a sexual encounter that Lucy reads about with a very well endowed beast in the woods nearby. Lucy imagines the experience Romilda went through graphically, and she almost seems to fantasize about the ordeal. We see the sequence almost in its entirety. It consists of Romilda (Sirpa Lane) running around gradually losing her clothes with some harpsichord music playing and eventually she succumbs to the beast’s advances and gets it on with his giant prosthetic phallus. It is graphic enough that it would be nearly impossible to say it isn’t shocking, but it is funny enough that the audience will laugh uncomfortably until it concludes. You certainly won’t forget this sequence and there are several more memorable parts before and after.
Just because someone may care I won’t reveal how la Bête ends.
Walerian Borowcyzk actually does seem to have a way with making movies. His other films are for the most part straight-forward erotica but he has the ability to make beautiful shots and here he even puts together an interesting, albeit strictly comedic, commentary on human and animal sexual impulse. I don’t want to mislead anyone here; the priorities of this movie are by no means it’s potentially significant insights. I don’t know what Borowcyzk’s intentions are but la Bête is certainly one of a kind.
The Cult Epics three disc release is worth owning if you enjoy rare and unique films. Especially ones that push the limit like this one. I have the dubbed version and the director’s cut in here, as well as a great stills gallery and a hilarious trailer that shows almost the entire sequence with the beast and Sirpa Lane, but with a black bar over the graphic footage…as if we don’t know what could be happening. On the third disc we have over one hundred minutes of silent behind the scenes footage and several other interesting features. The book that comes with this edition is probably the best aspect of the Cult Epics release. It has stills of some of the more noteworthy content and explains the film in far better detail than I have.
This is recommended for collectors and definitely for those of us not easily offended.
5.7 out of 10 – Nothing revolutionary, but a cult classic in sleaze cinema!