The AFI Silver Theatre opens a restored print of Jean Cocteau's 1946 Beauty and the Beast today for a two-week run. With the clear-eyed, soulful Josette Day as the Beauty and dashing Jean Marais as both her thick-headed village suitor and the gallant Beast, it has picture-perfect casting. Costumed and (in the case of the Beast) made up by Christian Berard, the performers are 18th-century etchings sprung to life - but with dimensions rarely found in storybook illustrations.
The Beast is a predatory Puss 'n' Boots. He can't hide primal impulses: His whole face twitches and swerves when he sniffs game, and his body smokes after the kill. He's overcome with abashment before Beauty. She pities, then loves him.
In his behind-the-scenes chronicle, Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film (1950), Cocteau wrote that his cinematographer, Henri Alekan, "Achieved a supernatural quality within the limits of realism. It is the reality of childhood." What Cocteau said also describes his own artistry.
Cocteau fills the familiar tale with an elating, sometimes vehement magical poetry that conveys the way uncorrupted youngsters experience storytelling and the world. Metaphors and similes become literal in the most light-fingered manner. In the Beast's castle, the walls may not have eyes, but they do have arms and hands, holding candles that illuminate Beauty's path. The fireplace has two spookily animated heads: mute chaperones observing the odd couple's stately courtship.
Kids who've seen the rousing Disney version won't feel as if they're watching a repeat. The cartoon, with its sex-role jokes and music-hall turns, is giddily, entertainingly anachronistic. Cocteau keeps his aesthetic distance. He casts the kind of spell that can emerge only from the era marked "Once Upon a Time."
The AFI Silver Theatre is at 8633 Colesville Road in Silver Spring. Call 301-495-6700.
At the Charles
The Charles' Saturday revival series features Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum as an ex-detective and Jane Greer as a gangster's moll - the woman Mitchum falls in love with after the gangster (Kirk Douglas) hires him to find her. Critic Bob Stephens has written that this "inestimable collaboration by Tourneur and Mitchum is not just one fine noir film among many. It has been a gauge for the genre, even a template, over the last 50 years." Showtime: Noon. $5. Call 410-727-FILM or visit www.thecharles.com.
Cinema Sundays at the Charles will be host of L'Auberge Espagnole, the multicultural French comedy hit set in Barcelona. It was a hit at the recent Maryland Film Festival and won a Cesar (the French Oscar) for Cecile De France as best female newcomer. Directed by Cedric Klapisch (When the Cat's Away), it also features Romain Duris, Judith Godreche and Audrey Tautou. Call 410-727-FILM or go to www.cinemasundays.com.