The Beast review
Here’s the lowdown – The Beast is a 1975 expansion of Walerian Borowczyk’s short piece “The Beast of Gevaudan” included in early versions of Immoral Tales, which Arrow Video included in their Blu-Ray edition of the film. If you’ve seen the short, then you know what to expect from The Beast, except that Borowczyk segments that short into the film as a dream sequence late in the final act. And so if the viewer did not enjoy the original short – whether because it was too long, or too disjointed, or too disturbing what with the bestial rape – then The Beast will not be one’s cup of tea either.
In fact, I’m not sure what kind of audience this film is directed toward. Unlike Immoral Tales, The Beast is a bit more intentionally erotic despite the bestiality that Borowczyk infuses both with horse rutting and with the dream sequence at the end of the film. There’s more straight-forward sex here; the black servant Ifany (Hassane Fall) has sex with Clarisse (Pascale Rivault) – the daughter of his master Pierre de l’Esperance (Guy Trejan) – and when he’s called away, she masturbates on the edge of a bed, and newly-engaged Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel) masturbates with a rose in a weird, what-could-that-feel-like kind of way.
But the eroticism is secondary to Borowczyk’s dry plot about the marriage between Lucy and Pierre’s odd son Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti), and The Beast, for nearly three-quarters of its runtime, focuses on this coming unity while awaiting the Cardinal’s arrival. There are some interesting ideas at work in the film – Borowczyk explores the horrifying depths Pierre will plunge just to get money from Lucy’s dowry, and he does do quite a bit to equate humanity and bestiality, then condemning the unity of the two.
But The Beast is a slow and tedious watch, full of dialogue that has very little worth. It’s clear that Borowczyk is making an artful statement, but the point of it gets lost in an endless display of French wealth, female nudity, and then the tacked-on dream sequence recycled nearly scene-for-scene from Immoral Tales‘ short. If one has seen that short, then there’s really no reason to come back to The Beast. This is just an unnecessary extension of that idea, broadened to include French aristocracy and a story that only barely relates (the woman in the dream is supposed to be the ancestor of the l’Esperance family, Romilda).
It’s hard to recommend The Beast, then, as a vital film in Borowczyk’s canon. It’s less disjointed than Immoral Tales, but – surprisingly – it has even less to say. It’s an erotic film with little usable substance, and the message isn’t really worth the slog. Ultimately, the short film in Immoral Tales is more than enough, and The Beast unsuccessfully attempts to reuse that footage and give it added context.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.