Director's Cut

“The Beast”, The Infinite Threat

In Film & Series, Director's Cut 4 September, 2023

Eva Peydró

Eva Peydró


If you could get rid of your emotions, would you? That is the starting point of The Beast (La bête, Bertrand Bonello, 2023), a fantasy that drags the couple Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux, in her third collaboration with the director) and Louis (Georges McKay) into a debate between intellect and emotion. Both find themselves at a point in their different lives, which are connected in one way or another in 1910, 2014 and finally, 2044, when they are faced with the decision to “purify” their DNA and stop experiencing destabilizing emotions. The threat of disaster, the intuition that something horrible is going to happen, is a feeling that has distressed Gabrielle since her youth and prevents her from fully enjoying herself, from being happy, and from not worrying about the future.

The connection that binds the couple from their first meeting is extraordinarily strong and not only expressed through love and passion. The most romantic film premiered at the 80th Venice Film Festival is a subjugating dystopian melodrama with protagonists capable of endowing their characters with such warmth and authenticity that we can recognize their core beyond their changes over time and their different incarnations. In the first, Louis is reunited after six years with Gabrielle, a concert pianist, who is married and lives in Paris, that will be flooded by the 1910 flood, then they will show that they have not lost the spark that ignited at a dinner party in Naples, after a performance of Madame Butterfly; In the second, she is a young model who looks after a mansion while its owner is away and he is a tormented young incel with a desire for revenge for being rejected by women; and in the third, the two meet while looking for work, being convinced to “purify themselves” as an advantage to get a job.

la bete. the beast

The chemistry between Seydoux and McKay is as powerful as the attraction their characters feel, with the fatalism of always expecting the worst, a paralyzing sensation that shackles them through the centuries. The director of House of Tolerance (2011) dares to tackle a story with a style as free as his daring, and the result is a mesmerizing immersion in pure emotion, the very thing that is intended to override that near future. The relief of losing the fears of the avenir, of love, of one’s own life, of the threat that our mind poses to our plans, or the lack of them, is not always desirable, because it pushes us to the limits of what is human.

Emotional blankness is evident in a variety of ways throughout the film. In the part set in the future, Guslagie Malanda (Saint-Omer, 2023) plays Gabrielle’s bionic assistant, in what is the ultimate closeness and contrast between emotional nudity and total protection, while in the last century segment, she uses the doll factory of Georges, played by Gabrielle’s husband Martin Scali (Asteroid City, 2023), to metaphorically illustrate the emotionlessness and, literally, flammability, as a weakness of impassive beings. The scene in which she shows Louis what expression the dolls adopt to be as neutral as possible is revealing. The close-up of her face is the equivalent of a wish and a curse.

la bete. the beast

Bonello co-wrote the film with Guillaume Bréaud and Benjamin Chabrit, based on the idea inspired by Henry James‘ short story The Beast in the Jungle (1903), a story in which the protagonist is blocked by the terror of something he senses in his future, a catastrophic event that will destroy his life and only at the end will he recognize his true nature, all that he has lost by not being “present”. The ambivalence of this threat is the most interesting aspect of Bonello’s exploration, and also the most difficult to show and describe, especially in this triple temporal arc in which he places his characters, which would be unaffordable without a script and performances as strong as those of his actors. It is not for nothing that the film opens with a scene that recreates a shooting, with the Gabrielle of 2014 who is a model in L.A., where the green wall and the virtuality of the threat, the presence of the knife on the table, and the dread before the beast fuse reality and imagination with the same result.

la bestia The Beast

The shooting of The Beast suffered several setbacks, the most dramatic of which was the death of Gaspard Ulliel in January 2022, who was to play Louis and to whom the film is dedicated.

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The BeastGuslagie MalandaGeorges McKayGaspard UllielHenry Jamesléa seydouxBertrand Bonello80th Venice Film Festival

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