Review: The Beast
- VENICE 2023: Bertrand Bonello delivers an extraordinary film, at once powerful, subjugating and cryptic, which navigates the corridors of time following the very charismatic Léa Seydoux
“I’ve spent my life thinking about things I couldn’t tell. It’s difficult to put words on feelings.” The soul, knowledge, the psyche, the violent contrasts between darkness and light, premonitions, fear, pain, choices and non-choices, but also beauty, the search for a kind of perfection and of deep knowledge of oneself and of the world: all these topics and many more still, Bertrand Bonello had already explored in his eight previous films placed under the banner of artistic risk and of a kind of dark flamboyance mid-way between existentialism and a thirst for transcendence. With The Beast [+see also:
interview: Bertrand Bonello
film profile], unveiled in competition at the 80th Venice Film Festival, the French filmmaker realises a fascinating and exceptional synthesis of all his existential and esoteric passions. He signs a major oeuvre that fabulously mixes together genres and of a great formal and conceptual richness that gives one a lot to think about while striving to remain “accessible” at first sight, in a subjugating flux for the spectator riveted to the trajectory across time of the protagonist, marvellously interpreted by Léa Seydoux.
“It’s hard to know the degrees of reality,” “it depends on how you’ll interpret it and what you’ll do with it.” Like these two snapshots of dialogue, The Beast is typically the kind of film whose mysteries it is best not to reveal, for how much it opens the doors of perception. Simply know that the plot navigates between three eras: 1910 and the great flooding of Paris with a married woman, owner of a doll factory, 2014 in California where an actress chasing auditions crosses paths with a hateful killer of women (directly inspired by the Elliot Rodger case), and 2044 in an aseptic world ruled by artificial intelligence where the erasure of human affects allows access to better jobs, and thus the possibility of diving back into one’s past lives in order to eliminate traumas. Three time frames intertwined in a circular, resonating and subtly repetitive fashion around the motifs of the human condition: the search for love (the film is a very free adaptation of The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James and George MacKay also moves across time playing three parts), the fear of the unknown, of the future and of death.
Fully embracing the “very particular experience” character of his film, craftsman-artist Bonello deploys all his immense formal gifts to thread his fractal narrative and give a very physical and realist dimension to an unreal world, as if we were falling into a crack that abolishes times, or even a post-mortem daydream or in a short-circuit of clairvoyance. At once perfectly direct in its adventures (a portrait of a woman dancing between the unique and the multiple), deeply metaphysical in its suggestions and a mirror of the organised chaos threatening humanity, The Beast is a cinematic voyage, a first-rate hypnotic immersion where float the spirits in particular of Lynch, Ophüls and Kubrick. And to fully appreciate this extraordinary jewel, “simply close your eyes and open them again.”
The Beast was produced by Les Films du Bélier and co-produced by Arte France Cinéma, My New Picture, Canada's outfit Sons of Manual (Xavier Dolan's outfit), Ami Paris and Jamal Zeinal-Zade. International sales are handled by Kinology.
(Translated from French)
Photogallery 02/09/2023: Venice 2023 - The Beast
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