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Orpheus (Criterion Collection)

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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.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: August 30, 2011
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B005152C82
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,771 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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

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.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 20 customer reviews
For as long as I remember, I watch this film every 5 years.
Gerard D. Launay
In the passage about seeing death at work in mirrors 'like bees in a hive of glass', the BFI inexpicably omits the last phrase altogether.
A. Baker
A film that remains poetic and influential for many artists today.
Dennis A. Amith (kndy)

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Stephen C. Bird on September 7, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Morbius on April 15, 2012
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
Jean Cocteau pulls out his usual bag of tricks to create a film that rivals his magnificent Beauty and the Beast (1946). Both films are masterpieces which deserve your undivided attention--especially on blu-ray where the blacks are black and the whites are white and mirrors are the doorways to unreality and back again in a gray-warp of unintentional mystery....Get it....
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Dennis A. Amith (kndy) TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 16, 2011
Format: Blu-ray
In French cinema, there are many filmmakers named Jean Renoir, Jean Vigo, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville, to name a few. But among these filmmakers who really never craved the spotlight was Jean Cocteau. A proud man with humility and creative talent that extends beyond cinema.

Before Cocteau was a playwright, a screenwriter, a director...he was one of the most prestigious, talented poets living in France.

At a young age, similar to Jean Vigo who suffered through pain throughout his childhood after the death of his father, Jean Cocteau lived a different life. Coming from a prominent family, like Vigo, at a young age, Jean Cocteau lost his father (who committed suicide).

Where a filmmaker like Vigo had cinema at a young age to escape reality, Cocteau had poetry.

In fact, his first volume of poems titled "Aladdin's Lamp" was created at the age of 19 and would eventually become popular through his poetry.

But it was World War I which changed Cocteau. He would meet poet Guillaume Apollinaire, artist Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani and would later collaborate with many talents which include Russian choreographer Sergei Diaghilev, who persuaded the poet to write a scenario for his ballet "Parade" in 1917.

As one of the great poets, the introduction to writing for a ballet would lead him to writing and directing plays but also novels. Among the novels he is known for are "Les Enfants Terribles" (1929), "The Blood of the Poet" (1930), "Les Parents Terribles" (1948), "Beauty and the Beast" (1946) and "Orpheus" (1949).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on August 13, 2013
Format: DVD
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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