In his last film, legendary writer/artist/filmmaker Jean Cocteau portrays an 18th-century poet who travels through time on a quest for divine wisdom. In a mysterious wasteland, he meets several symbolic phantoms that bring about his death and resurrection. With an eclectic cast that includes Pablo Picasso, Jean-Pierre Leáud, Jean Marais and Yul Brynner, Testament of Orpheus (Le Testament de Orphée) brings full circle the journey Cocteau began in The Blood of a Poet, an exploration of the torturous relationship between the artist and his creations. Continue reading
A poet creates a drawing of a living mouth, which transfers to his hand when he tries to wipe it from the canvas. Later, when he touches a statue with his afflicted hand, the statue comes to life. As a punishment, the poet is condemned to walk the corridor of the Hotel of Dramatic Follies, where he spies on various tableaux directed by the statue.
It has often been said that Jean Cocteau was the first major poet and writer to treat the cinema with total seriousness. But actually it was the cinema that made him into a major artist. “The movie screen,” he said, “is the true mirror refecting the flesh and blood of my dreams.” And one of his most poetic, dreamlike films was La Belle et La Bête.
Watching it now, you can’t feel its audacity as you might have done at the time. Faithfully, but not totally innocently, based on the fairy tale by Madame LePrince de Beaumont, it is almost purely visual, even if a Freudian analysis is possible. And it is certainly completely different in atmosphere and style from anything that had gone before, at least in the commercial cinema.
The team who made it in 1946 – and it was a team – broke a good many rules at the urging of Cocteau. Georges Auric’s memorable music didn’t so much underline the visuals as frequently cut across them, reaching a synthesis at vital moments. Henri Alekan’s equally extraordinary cinematography, which the studio described unsympathetically as “white cheese”, is the opposite of conventionally fantastic. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
In a grand apartment, where the disorder of an elderly couple and the order of old aunt Léonie are mixed together, Michel is the pampered child of this strange “roulotte” who seems to be rolling away from the world. Yvonne idolizes her son so much she forgets her husband. She would even forget herself if she did not have to take care of his insulin treatment. When Michel sleeps out for the first time, he vows to his mother (who he nicknames “Sophie”) that he loves Madeleine, a young woman who he wishes to present to her. At first reticent, then jealous and exclusive, Yvonne ends up capitulating before her son’s sorrow and his sister Léonie’s insistence. In the meantime, we discover that Madeleine already has an “old” lover who she wants to break up with, who is none other than Georges, Michel’s father. Aunt Léo attempts to bring order to this tragic comedy of life. (Wiki) Continue reading
A masterpiece of experimental film and a projection of the surrealist vision into cinema by its outstanding artists. Described by Richter as “part Freud, part Lewis Carroll,” it is a fairy tale for the subconscious based on the game of chess. This chess-sonata is played by a host of artists including Paul Bowles, Jean Cocteau, Julian Levy, Jacqueline Matisse, Jose Sert, Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Alexander Calder. “What interested me is the poetry of images, the melody and rhythm of forms and colors” (Hans Richter). Continue reading