...In his collected essays in The Art of Cinema, Cocteau coins his essays on cinema under the cine-poetry term, calling them Poésie de cinéma. As Robin Buss notes in his introduction to the collection, Cocteau “asserts that the underlying mechanism of cinema is like that of dreams.” Cocteau is neither a filmmaker nor a playwright nor a writer, but a poet; and to him, poets operated not just in the form of poetry, but in the form of dreams. Importantly to him, however, cinematic poetry is not “deliberately ‘poetic’” (which steered into the world of elitist art cinema, according to Cocteau), but derivative from the real and the unreal; from what audiences believe and what they see.
What Cocteau allows his audience to see in La Belle et la Bête can either be seen as a manipulation of his viewer or his ability to use the technicalities of filmmaking as a form of magic. For example, Cocteau has described how he persuaded Alekan “to shoot Jean Marais, as the Prince, in as saccharine a style as possible. The trick worked. When the picture was released, letters poured in from matrons, teenage girls and children, complaining to me and Marais about the transformation.” A conflict between the artistic and the technical emerges here, as the ugliness of the Prince reminds the viewer of the lure and attractiveness of the Beast.
Yet, for the Beast’s actor Jean Marais (who also played what would be Disney’s version of Gaston, Avenant, and the Beast-turned-prince), the costume of the Beast was so uncomfortable that Marais developed painful sores while his skin was damaged by the glue used to keep the fur on his body. For Jean Marais — a person who looks more like a Greek sculpture than a mere human — turning into the Beast brought pain and ugliness for the actor, while for Josette Day’s Belle, and for the audience, the pain only came once the Beast had vanished, left only with the uncomfortably real-looking Marais. In fact, there’s the now well-known story that Marlene Dietrich, upon seeing the shimmering prince, called “where is my beautiful Beast?” The technical is turned into poetry here, with Marais’ real-life pain mirroring both the Beast’s internal struggle as well as the pain audiences feel upon seeing the prince.