Jean Cocteau’s wildly imaginative allegorical reworking of the Orpheus myth is surely his greatest movie.
Dir Jean Cocteau
With Jean Marais, Maria Casares, François Périer, Juliette Gréco
A BFI release
Jean Cocteau’s wildly imaginative allegorical reworking of the Orpheus myth is surely his greatest movie. Encountering a mysterious princess (Casares), the poet Orphée (Marais, Cocteau’s lover and muse) is entranced, only later to realise her deathly aura... Open to endless interpretations, Cocteau’s hallucinatory meditation on mortality, creativity and passion is packed with inventive ideas and resonant images: sinister bikers from the underworld; surreal radio messages (inspired by the BBC’s coded wartime broadcasts to the Resistance); the trip through a mirror into the underworld; post-occupation Paris rendered nightmarishly unfamiliar. Critic Gilbert Adair applauded the film for being like no other (‘Oh, the magic!’), while Ray Durgnat wrote that it gripped ‘like a bondage corset’ – it’s that rich and strange.
Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-large
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