Synopsis: Once upon a time in the 18th century a beast lived in the woods of an aristocratic estate. And this beast, possessed of a giant phallus and an insatiable lust, set upon the beautiful young lady of the house. Two centuries later, the tale of the beast would return in the dreams of an American heiress contracted to carry the male descendant of the same crumbling aristocratic family and their secret.
La Bête 7.0
eyelights: Lisbeth Hummel. the sexy bits.
eyesores: the terrible beast costume. the poor dubbing. the hamfisted exposition.
‘La Bête’ is a 1975 motion picture by Walerian Borowczyk, of ‘Contes immoraux‘, ‘Les héroïnes du mal‘ and ‘Ars amandi‘ fame. A peculiar mixture of erotica and horror, it tells the story of an aristocratic family trying to marry their simpleton son Mathurin in order to break a curse.
Thankfully, for them, Lucy Broadhurst has been willed a fortune by her father on the condition that she marries Mathurin within six months of his death. Despite long-standing rumours of a beast haunting the ground of their property, she and her mother are on their way from abroad.
But there’s a bump in the road: Mathurin has never been baptised and must be married by Cardinal Joseph do Balo for Lucy to inherit her fortune. And so they contrive to have Mathurin baptised and wait for the Cardinal’s arrival – except that the Cardinal inexplicably leaves them waiting.
You see, Lucy is a playful girl who carries a camera with her everywhere she goes, snapping pictures of everything of interest. She’s very curious, and she has stumbled upon some erotic imagery in the huge French mansion. As she waits to be wed, her lust grows to the point of bursting.
‘La Bête’ is a weak film. From a purely technical perspective, it’s amateurish and wildly inefficient in its storytelling; it has little to tell and it doesn’t do it especially well. Then there’s the matter of the awful dubbing which didn’t fit the actors’ lips and actually sounded disjointed.
But its biggest problem is a dream sequence that finds a Countess trying to outrun a lustful werewolf in the woods.
This sequence, which was originally intended for ‘Contes immoraux’, doesn’t quite fit in with the film proper. It’s unclear but it appears to be a lusty nightmare that Lucy is having – except that it’s cut into bits as though she were dreaming it in sequential segments during various naps.
Um… you know, just like real dreams.
Further to that, the segment is hobbled by a rather unrealistic werewolf costume. While Borowczyk does his best to show it only selectively, the fact remains that the scene takes place in broad daily and all its flaws stand out, from the inarticulate mask to the rubbery fingers and claws.
To make matters worse, that scene is pornographic. I have nothing against pornography, per se, but this crossed a line into derision by showing the beast’s erection (a rubbery pole that flowed streams of ejaculate every other second – and over the most contrived contacts) over and over again.
The scene is also disturbing because the Countess is clearly being violated. Now, I know that rape fantasies are not uncommon with some women, but I find no satisfaction in them. Anyway, for good or bad, it was all so unrealistically portrayed that it was more ridiculous than offensive.
What’s strange to me is that the picture was controversial because some claimed that it promoted bestiality. So weird. I mean, the countess is clearly having sex with a werewolf, which is more human than animal, when you consider that it stands on two legs and moves and functions like a man.
The fact that the countess wasn’t ravished by the beast also counters this notion. In no way was this encounter erotic. Pornographic, yes, but not erotic. And while the scene has very little redeeming value, I really don’t see how it could have been misinterpreted as some form of bestiality.
Anyway, the film’s initial aura of mystery created a modicum of intrigue, and there’s the no small matter of its slow erotic burn, which grew to a crescendo by the end of the picture. Combined with the delicate and perfect beauty of Lisbeth Hummel as Lucy, it made for a rather delectable 90 minutes.
But here again, Borowczyk flirts with pornography by briefly showing Lucy’s vulva as she caresses herself. And when it’s not explicit, it’s suggestive, like when the Marquis’ daughter has sex with their manservant, and then rubs herself against furniture when he’s called away for work.
My favourite bits all revolves around Lucy, who is growing more and more aroused as she waits to be wed. Watching her caress herself through a transparent gown that casually embraces her body, fingering from behind, masturbating with a rose, tearing at her gown, …etc., was surprisingly provocative.
And, based solely on its power to get under one’s skin, I think that ‘Le Bête’ is worth seeing. Granted, it’s no grand cinema by any means, but there’s also no other film quite like it: where else would one find a mix of period piece, erotica, fable and horror? Probably nowhere else, I’d wager.
Date of viewing: May 24, 2016