The tagline on the poster for Belle is “The tale as old as time.” Writer-director Max Gold is certainly aware that trying to reimagine a fairy tale from the 1700s is no trivial endeavor. Nor is it an easy one, not only because of how deeply Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast runs in the social conscience but also because the filmmaker’s take is something of a psychological-horror film. However, rather unexpectedly, it is not the darker elements that run afoul; those prove a tenable proof of concept. The confused tone and largely inert script render this adaptation more beast than beauty.
The titular heroine Belle (Andrea Snædal), is a farm girl who lives with her father (Gudmundur Thorvaldsson) in the remote reaches of an unnamed Scandinavian country (likely Iceland). When Belle’s father becomes ill to the point of death, she must venture forth in search of an enchanted rose that might save him. But, of course, the rose is guarded by a terrible and cannibalistic beast.
The most striking feature of Belle, and definitively its best, is the cinematography. Director of photography Nico Navia has captured the eerie essence of the far corners of the world with stunning clarity. White mountains, glass-like fjords, and haunting meadows are conveyed in long and twisting shots that inherently deliver the bleak naturalism necessary for a horror fairy tale. The visuals, with no words or overt sophistry, are wholly convincing and enthralling.
“…the rose is guarded by a terrible and cannibalistic beast.”
However, when the film gets to its words, coherency falls apart. The script is awkward, to say the least. Dialogue between characters is curt and inorganic. Even characters like Belle and her father, who have presumably lived together for decades, speak like strangers. Indeed, every conversation is delivered as though even the actors themselves know something is missing. This is further exacerbated by a tone so confused that it causes narrative breakdowns — events lurch forward in time, often without describing how or why a character is doing what they are doing.
The script and tonal issues are made all the more frustrating when considering the quality of the casting. Every core actor is well-chosen and has recognizable skills. However, not a single one of them gets to shine in his or her role, especially Andrea Snædal. She very clearly has more to offer the role of Belle if only the writing had allowed it. The script itself has a lot of interesting ideas, but none are rendered properly nor dwelt on long enough to create compelling narrative momentum. Sadly, it is all quite lifeless.
Ultimately, Belle is disappointing not because its base elements are lacking but because the director had everything within reach to create a memorable film. Unfortunately, Gold simply doesn’t assemble the pieces with enough care to work. The visceral beauty cries out for a tale that fits the rawness of its soul. With some revisions to the script and some polish applied to the direction, this could have realized the potential of its style without sacrificing its beastly soul.
"…has captured the eerie essence of the far corners of the world..."