15:37Polish film maker Walerian Borowczyk's La Bête (French, 1975, aka The Beast) is among the most controversial and brave films ever made.
A sophisticated young woman travels with her mother to a French countryside to meet her soon-to-become husband whom with she has had a letter affair of some kind. All are very exciting and each others' parents and relatives wait impatiently to see the new people arriving to their families. The innocence of the young bride shines through and no one knows what can happen and wake up inside the walls of the big and beautiful French mansion, with all its humans and animals, and a mysterious "la bête" that turns out to be something that the characters, nor most of the film's audience, could have never imagined to be real and (in front of) them.
The film is about the same theme as Canadian David Cronenberg's debyt feature Shivers (1975), which happens inside a huge luxury building in which destructive and gory parasites spread from human to human by sexual contact and make people act furiously and violently in their lust for pleasure and fulfilment of instincts. Human has instincts that can be and are stronger than his will and that is why those instincts can be as dangerous and powerful as the instincts of some other animal, a beast, be it a lust for blood, revenge or sex and carnal pleasure. Humans are only animals that have intelligence and tools to convey it but because we are also animals, that intelligence is not always used too much as can be seen anywhere around us. The film opens greatly, and very shockingly for most hypocritic attitudes, showing a horny male horse raging in fury as he waits to get inside the mare and continue the race, but the rage and visible lust we see from his eyes and violent movements are the key elements of that beginning and why it is there, not the close-ups of organs as could be so easily claimed. The horse is a beast that battles in an almost unbearable heat, in heat that's much stronger than his will as he doesn't have any control at that point anymore. The power of the instinct makes an animal a beast.
After the memorable beginning, the characters get introduced, and the film fantastically has all the necessary age groups inside it from the little innocent children waiting to grow up and develop to their blossom, to the adults and elders that all represent their own part of the lifespan, creating the face of human life on screen. A film doesn't necessarily need more characters this way as all the important ones are already there and represent the whole race, including the urban and countryside inhabitants, and both sexes. The mansion makes the protagonist girl's sexuality wake as she saws the horses coupling and acting like she obviously has never thought of. For the first time she sees something unique and something that excites and feels almost vital for her and her body, like getting water when you're very thirsty. The transformation of the girl is a very important element in the film as she has lived unaware of these things inside her, with his mother and camera and a letter-boyfriend, even though the things have just waited for the moment to burst out. Flesh desires flesh and that belongs to being a humanimal, but still those things are not so easily admitted everywhere and films like these trying to depict it get banned for decades? Man's stupidity and unwillingness to interpret images must not be an argument for a film being banned or otherwise violated.
The film's last 30 minutes are also as important as the beginning, and once again show how powerful cinema is without needless words and talk. As the girl and audience realizes what her body starts to feel and desire, she starts to have dreams about the mysterious beast that turns out to be none other than the undressed form of ourselves, having lived in the woods without other people/beasts near him. The dream sequence is the one that causes and caused most of the controversy alongside the film's overall straight and honest attitude, and the images are so easy to be judged as "perverse" and "pornographic", without a courage to go deeper into them, character reactions and thoughts behind what we see. The images are exciting in her dream and also eventually inside the dream for the dream's (more) human character, and Borowczyk forces us to admit it with the images that are so close to a "normal" sexual act between a man and a female, which is a beautiful thing and expression of love, another human need. Also the numerous, and cleverly blackly humorous love making scenes inside the mansion, between the young mother and the black servant, get interrupted many times as someone screams for the servant, for example, and there's no doubt that the sensual image of two young human bodies being together and being interrupted with an angry shout at least doesn't become any more pleasant by the interruption. Borowczyk has managed to paint his images so beautiful and "sensitive" that his message is almost impossible to be misunderstood, but nothing seems to be impossible for our cultures and minds that criticize art. He uses dialogue only when it's necessary, otherwise the images do the job and make the film powerful.
Death is also there, as flesh dies sooner or later, after years of life and instincts, it dies. The ending is inevitable but the meaning of the dream sequence could have also been as powerful without the kind of dramatic and "revealing" ending too. Another blackly humorous element comes when we see the shocked city women running out of the place in which they saw a little more than they were looking for! They visited the mansion of truth about flesh, us and them. The film reminds me of French writer Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye with its same themes about eroticism, death and how they both are always connected to the nature of our flesh. The book is well written and fantastic as well as this film, and naturally both have been blamed for their "too explicit" content and other equally noteworthy shallow comments.
Borowczyk's film is also very beautiful visually alongside its raw honesty, and the nature and forest have rarely looked so bright and shining as they do in this film. The sun shines through the trees, and to everyplace where humans live, and the beauty of it is always there, but so is the ugliness that originates by the inhabitants of the world. To every innocent white sheep there's a selfish, evil and horrible beast in our world and that is why the intelligence we have been given never fully seems to overcome the power of our bad instincts and the other side of the sheep, present inside every human soul. It is about how many manages to keep the dark side passive and not active. The fulfilment of some of our instincts is not a bad thing, and by using this intelligence and seeing which of the instincts are good and which bad, they can be satisfied without exploitation, violence and the lethal and destructive circle created by it. Human is not more than an animal with intelligence, intelligence that is so easy to be forgotten and eaten to the background by things that feel better and more satisfying at each and perhaps sudden moment. Borowczyk's film is a masterpiece, unforgettable and clever piece of magical cinema with ageless theme and also an example of how much can be achieved, expressed and given by a film maker, who is also only a human.