La Bête (1975)

aka: Death's Ecstacy
Drama / Fantasy / Horror / Romance


La Bête photo
To safeguard the future of his country estate, the Marquis de l'Esperance arranges a marriage between his son, Mathurin, and an English heiress, Lucy Broadhurst. Whilst the Marquis is putting pressure, unsuccessfully, on the Duc De Balo, to get his brother the cardinal to attend the wedding mass, Lucy arrives with her aunt. Meanwhile, a priest is seeing to Mathurin's baptism. As they wait for the cardinal, Lucy discovers the story of a young woman who was raped by a wild beast, in the grounds of the château, 200 years ago...
© 2012

Film Review

Film poster
La Bête is the most notorious work from controversial Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk, who came to fame as an animator in the 1960s, but who ended up directing tacky softcore porn films in the 1980s (including the utterly diabolical Emmanuelle 5). Before his sorry decline into mediocrity, Borowczyk established himself as the master of a new brand of surreal eroticism, where pornography meets fine art to create a unique and utterly bizarre cinematic experience.

La Bête is perhaps the prime example of this. It combines anti-bourgeois black comedy (very reminiscent of the work of French film director Luis Buñuel) with camp gothic horror and softcore porn. The result ought to be a pretentious, unwatchable mess, but it isn't. Although it is far from being a great work of cinema, La Bête has an indefinable quality of artistic flair about it, constantly surprising its audience with its originality and daring. It is also probably the most explicit depiction of female sexuality in cinema, something which will either delight or shock anyone watching the film.

The film's pièce de résistance is a flashback sequence which offers a pornographic re-working of the Beauty and the Beast tale. Here, a man in an unconvincing bear costume chases a beautiful young maiden through a sunny glade before confronting her with a comic phallus of truly monstrous proportions. With its overly explicit depiction of male and female orgasm, perhaps in the worst possible taste, this sequence ends up appearing far more like a cheap comical sketch than a serious piece of erotica. Like most of this film, it really only works if it is seen from a comic perspective. This is not a film about the horror of bestiality - it is much more about the grotesque absurdity of human sexuality.

Not surprisingly, the film suffered at the hand of the censors for its graphic depiction of sex when it was distributed outside of France. In the UK the film was subjected to substantial cuts, and was soon banned. The film was only released uncut 25 years after its initial release in France. Even today, the film is still able to surprise its audience with its daring and sometimes disturbing portrayal of female sexuality.
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