Orpheus (French: Orphée) is a 1949 French film directed by Jean Cocteau and starring Jean Marais. This film is the central part of Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy, which consists of The Blood of a Poet (1930), Orpheus (1949) and Testament of Orpheus (1960). The trilogy has been released as a DVD boxed set by The Criterion Collection.
Set in contemporary Paris, the movie is a variation of the classic Greek myth of Orpheus. At the Café des Poètes a brawl is staged by acolytes of the Princess (Casares) and the young poet Cègeste (Edouard Dermithe), the rival of Orpheus the poet, is killed. Cègeste is taken to the car of the princess by her associates, and Orpheus is asked to accompany them as a witness. They drive to a chateau (the landscape through the car windows are presented in negative) acompanied by abstract poetry on the radio. This takes the form of seemingly meaningless messages which are like those broadcast to the French Resistance from London during the Occupation.
Orpheus (Marais) becomes obsessed with Death, the Princess (Casares)), while one of Death’s associates, Heurtebise (Périer), the Princess’ chauffeur, entertains analogous unrequited love for Eurydice (Marie Déa). They fall in love. Orpheus’s wife, Eurydice, is killed by the Princess’ henchmen and Orpheus goes after her into the Underworld. Although they have become dangerously entangled, the Princess sends Orpheus back out of the Underworld, to carry on his life with Eurydice, but he cannot look at her or she will die. (This diverges from the common classical account found in the Roman versions of the myth by Ovid and Virgil, where Eurydice is lost forever.) It is all a dream, Eurydice is revealed to be alive, and expecting a child.