La Bête | France | 1975 | Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Logline: The daughter of an aristocrat travels with her aunt to a country estate to be betrothed to the wealthy young heir only to find herself distracted by family secrets and perverse fantasies.
The Beast is the perfect mélange of high art and deep trash, from a decade where the boundaries of good taste were pushed to the edge of the envelope, only to be caressed and folded back. High art, because the movie’s approach to the subject matter was years ahead of its time; and deep trash, because the shocking and lurid nature of the subject matter was treated in a pretentious or, more often, unintentionally absurd fashion.
The late Polish director Walerian Borowczyk’s ludicrous tale is a forest-and-mansion-bound phantasy of the most beastly indulgences; a netherworld of turgid dressing room dramatics, and animalistic lust and desire bordering on the macabre. Yes The Beast is a beast all of its own. No other movie quite like it. Leave your sensibilities at the door would be a sensible suggestion, and keep your tongue gently probing into the side of your cheek.
The plot of the film is slight to say the least, but the imagery, mood, tone, and ultimately its sensual deliverance, is what provides the movie with its cult revelry, its vulgar poetry; leaving the clutches of her aunt Virginia (Elizabeth Kaza), the English heiress, Lucy (Lisbeth Hummel), explores the French estate and discovers a secret family history. Later she dreams of musical fancies, in particular the pretty countess Romilda (Sirpa Lane) abandoning her harpsichord to find a lost wee lamb, then being stalked by a large sexually-ravenous ursine beast that first skins the lamb, then lusts after Romilda herself.
More importantly Lucy later comes to realise that the man she is to marry, Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti), might very well be the beast of her (decidedly naughty) dreams himself; some kind of lycanthrope, perhaps. The patriarch, Pierre de l’Esperance (Guy Trejan), of the wealthy, but crumbling aristocratic brood may have more than his spirits raised. Oh, the humanity!
The Beast began life as an 18-minute short filmed in 1973 and was intended for the director’s ambitious erotic compendium Immoral Tales (1974). Instead Borowczyk decided to construct a feature around the short. His stylistic and surreal sensibilities are like a lewd and lascivious cross between Tinto Brass, Roman Polanski and David Lynch. As a maverick visionary the director has made a striking paean to bestiality and wayward desire; his adoration runs wild and wicked indeed!
But Borowczyk doesn’t suffer offended fools gladly, kicking his film off with an extended sequence of a large black stallion rogering several mares. The camera catches the equine’s throbbing beasthood several times, as well as the mare’s pulsating pudenda; the director’s mind is in the stable’s trough it seems! But this is Walerian Borowczyk. His movies penetrate the mind like a bad feverish dream. You can’t help but return to the more outrageous, dark, and sexually-charged elements of his movies, as the sumptuous and vivid cinematography only provokes the viewer’s aesthetic demands.
The Beast is a strange and peculiar curiosity, oh yes. A satirical dream of animal ravishing, and amusing inter-racial (and inter-species) couplings, that suggests – like only a sophisticated sexploitation art flick can – that women fantasise about being ravished by bear-like beasts with enormous secreting erections until eventually the animal expires and the woman escapes with barely a scratch upon her alabaster thigh.