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Orpheus (Criterion Collection)

13 customer reviews

Additional DVD options Edition Discs
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(Aug 30, 2011)
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Criterion Collection
$19.17 $15.82

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Editorial Reviews

This 1950 update of the Orphic myth by Jean Cocteau (Beauty and the Beast) depicts a famous poet (Jean Marais) scorned by the Left Bank youth, and his love for both his wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) and a mysterious princess (Maria Casarès). Seeking inspiration, the poet follows the princess from the world of the living to the land of the dead through Cocteau’s famous mirrored portal. Orpheus represents the legendary Cocteau at the height of his abilities for peerless visual poetry and dreamlike storytelling.

Special Features

New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack

Audio commentary by French film scholar James Williams

Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown, a 1984 feature-length documentary

Video piece from 2008 featuring assistant director Claude Pinoteau on the special effects in the film

40 Minutes with Jean Cocteau, an interview with the director from 1957

In Search of Jazz, a 1956 interview with Cocteau on the use of jazz in the film

La villa Santo-Sospir, a 16 mm color Cocteau film from 1951

Gallery of images by French film portrait photographer Roger Corbeau

Raw newsreel footage of the Saint-Cyr military academy ruins, a location used in the film

Theatrical trailer

PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by author Mark Polizzotti, selected Cocteau writings on the film, and an essay on La villa Santo-Sospir by Williams

Product Details

  • Actors: Jean Marais, Francois Perier, Maria Casares, Marie Dea, Henri Cremieux
  • Directors: Jean Cocteau
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: August 30, 2011
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B005152C82
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,400 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Stephen C. Bird on September 7, 2011
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I enjoy studying "Orpheus", my favorite of Cocteau's films for its sheer originality, cryptic whimsy, audio-visual conceptual risks, and superb musical score by Georges Auric. Each time I see it, more is revealed to me, thanks to the richness of the details and the underlying subtext. The picture switches effortlessly between "real-world life" and "dream world / underworld reality". This film features trick shots and special effects that are simple, yet state of the art for their time (as is also the case in "La Belle et La Bête"): rubber gloves, that grant one entrance to the Underworld, by means of walking through mirrors; mirrors with watery surfaces; broken mirrors reassembling; the Princess ("La Mort"--María Casares) disappearing and reappearing; mysterious sequences of numbers and abstract poetry fragments emanating from the Princess' car radio.

Although all the performances are excellent, María Casares is the star of this film, with her strong, take-charge, no-nonsense approach. Conversely, she is also vulnerable, and ultimately pays the price, for misusing the privileges of her power, by falling in love with Orpheus (Jean Marais). The Princess' assistant, Heurtebise (François Périer), is introduced as a vaguely sinister presence, but is soon revealed to be a sympathetic character; he falls in love with Orpheus' wife, Eurydice (Marie Déa). In the end, in an act of compassion, the Princess and Heurtebise are punished for returning Orpheus and Eurydice to the world of the living.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By john on March 9, 2013
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Showed it to my 15 year old daughter who thought it was "really cool", so do I.The Criterion collection version is clear and the sound is probably the best it gets for monoaural. The interview special with Lacan gives insight into this creative genius. The special effects for a film made in 1950 are innovative and original. No one was doing movies like this back then.Orpheus is an excellent choice of subject. I was originally introduced and entranced 25 years ago on some midnight foriegn movie station. I was able to watch other French classics, Le Boucher & Breathless. For a kid from south Louisiana it opened up new vistas.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on August 13, 2013
For as long as I remember, I watch this film every 5 years. Something about the imagery pulls me into its alternative world, unlike any other movie I have experienced. (Yes, that is the right word). Mirrors that turn into water...mirrors that can seize a life...mirrors that reform themselves after being broken. Magic? Not quite. Dream? ... absolutely.

Like the Song of Songs where "Love is as Strong as Death", both the Biblical Poem and the Film use dreams within dreams to fuel our imaginations and desires. In Jean Cocteau's vision, Death is incarnated as a beautiful but mysterious women dressed immaculately in black and white. (These reflect her association with the ETERNAL FEMININE, the colors of the MOON). She commands - and others must obey. But once she glimpses Orpheus (played by the impossibly handsome Jean Marais), she herself falls in love. The forbidden act of love induces Death to violate the rules of her other world, to bring Orpheus back with her, and to go so far as to orchestrate the death of his wife. Ashamed by his lack of attention to his wife or, more likely, drawn by an inexplicable desire for death itself, the poet Orpheus voluntarily passes into the hidden underworld of Death - perhaps to comprehend the other, perhaps to fulfill his own wish to escape an ordinary life.

I disagree with Roger Ebert who opines that the female who incarnates Death should have been played by Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich. Had that been so...the personality of Death would have been mixed with the personality of one of these stars of the silver screen, With Maria Casares, we experience her anew, untainted by other associations. Part of the charm of the film is that Death herself is vulnerable to but one thing, and that is love.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Brad Baker VINE VOICE on September 10, 2011
Jean Cocteau explored the myth of Orpheus three times. This second of his trilogy("Orpheus" 1949) stars Jean Marais as the young poet Orpheus; married to the lovely Eurydice. Orpheus' friend Cegeste is killed in a traffic accident, but the Princess of Death revives the young man. Cegeste and the Princess pass into the Underworld. Orpheus receives messages from Cegeste's spirit via a car radio(?), and visits from the Princess. Meanwhile Orpheus' wife enters into an affair, and is also struck down and killed. Enough drama? Now enchanted, Orpheus falls in love with the Princess, the glamorous Incarnation of Death. The narrator, Cocteau, implies "You look at yourself in a mirror all the time. And you see Death at work. Mirrors are the doors through which Death comes and goes..."In "Orpheus", Cocteau escorts us through his magic-mirror portals to Hades; nothing more than modern, bomb-ravaged Paris. Reverse photography, slow-motion, and rear projection provide cinema illusion resolving back to his "La Belle Et La Bete(1946)", also starring Jean Marais, Cocteau's one-time lover. Jean Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, playwright, and filmmaker. Tragic himself, his father committed suicide when Cocteau was ten. Disallusioned, Cocteau became addicted to opium, and wrote "Les Enfants Terribles" during the worst of his drug crisis. Cocteau died of a heart attack in October 1963, and is buried beneath the floor of the Chapelle Saint Blaise Des Simples in Milly-la-Foret.Read more ›
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