Midweek Distractions 2/14/24: The Beast Film Review & Loving Frenchly

Still from "The Beast"

Last week, I caught a screening of the new French film, The Beast (“La Bête”). This bizarre and fascinating feature was directed by Bertrand Bonello (best known for his 2014 Saint Laurent biopic about the celebrated French designer), and stars Léa Seydoux (who has been in so many films, we made a list to keep track). It was supposed to co-star French heartthrob Gaspard Ulliel, before his tragic skiing-related death in 2022; in the end, Ulliel’s role was beautifully filled by the British actor, George MacKay. The result is an unusual film in both French and English: part sci-fi, part period film, part horror flick, set in the years 2044, 2014, and 1910. Over the course of 2.5 hours (it is, admittedly, a little long) The Beast is both dark and hilarious at turns, but it’s a romance at heart, albeit a strange one to be thinking about ahead of Valentine’s Day.

We’ve been publishing a lot of romance-related content for Le Saint Valentin, so I’ve been thinking a lot about France’s relationship to love. Out of all the countries in the world, it has a reputation for romance and sex appeal. In polls, people frequently rank the French accent as the sexiest in the world, think of French as the language of love, and buy into the stereotype that the French make excellent lovers.

It’s true that Paris is full of romantic spots and things to do for couples, plus amazing date night bars and restaurants. There are a myriad of French love songs to set the mood while you share a gorgeous bottle of French rosé and crack open a crème brûlée.

We’ve even put together a roundup of wonderful French films about love to watch for Valentine’s Day. But, if I’m being honest, there are very few of them I would necessarily call “romantic” in the same way I would a good old American rom-com romantic. Many of the most beloved French films about love represent relationships as complicated, messy things that don’t necessarily end well.

The Beast falls into this category. Set in a future where unsentimental AI rules the world, Gabrielle (Seydoux) must cleanse herself of strong emotions to qualify for professional advancement. This involves revisiting her past lives and resolving past traumas to cure a persistent anxiety she can’t seem to explain. In each of the past lives she revisits, as well as in her current life, she forms a powerful but dangerous connection with Louis (MacKay), who is going through the same “purification” process to achieve permanent serenity. Gabrielle is reluctant to complete the process, because she wants to feel all of those intense, passionate feelings, but everyone around her reinforces the idea that this reluctance is based on a romantic fallacy that will only cause her anguish. (The idea that failing to achieve serenity is a sign of moral weakness is particularly relevant today, when so much media seems to be shouting at us that if we only worked harder, we would be more chill.)

Essentially, the movie boils down to the idea that the same things that cause us great joy (including love) are also capable of providing us with great sorrow. To love fully, even if you know it will end badly, isn’t a practical thing to do. But we do it anyway, because it’s the human thing to do.

I would highly recommend going to see The Beast when it comes out in the U.S. in April. But in the meantime, if you’re looking for a love story that’s a little less full of existential dread, you should check out Andrea Meyer’s review of The Taste of Things, which came out Stateside this weekend.

Things I found on the Internet…

Photos of the 1910 Great Flood of Paris, which features prominently in The Beast, when Paris looked a lot like Venice.

Catherine Rickman
Managing Editor, frenchly.us

Stay in touch! I’d love to hear from you: [email protected].





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