Orpheus (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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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).Read more ›
Cinematic poet Jean Cocteau explored the myth of Orpheus on no fewer than three occasions: Le Sang d'Un Poete (Blood of a Poet, 1930), Orphee (Orpheus, 1949) and Le Testament d'Orphee (1960). This second of his "Orpheus" trilogy stars Jean Marais in the title role. Updated to contemporary Paris (albeit a Paris never seen before or since), the story concerns a sensitive young poet named Orpheus, who is married to the lovely Eurydice (Marie Dea). Orpheus' friend Cegeste (Edouard Dermit) is killed in a traffic accident. In the hospital morgue, Cegeste's patroness, The Princess of Death (Maria Casares), revives the young man; then, both Cegeste and Princess pass into the Underworld. Back on earth, Orpheus receives cryptic messages from Cegeste's spirit, as well as nocturnal visitations from the Princess. Meanwhile, Orpheus' wife enters into an affair with Heurtebise (Francois Perier). After seeking advice on her mixed-up love life, Eurydice is herself struck down and killed by the same cyclist who snuffed out Cegeste's life. It appears to Heurtebise that the ghostly Princess has claimed Eurydice so that she, the Princess, can be free to love Orpheus. Heurtebise persuades Orpheus to accompany him into the Underworld in hopes of returning Eurydice to life. By now, however, Orpheus cares little for his wife; he is completely under the Princess' spell. Offered her own liberation from the Underworld by the powers-that-be, the Princess dolefullly agrees to restore Eurydice to life, and to never have anything to do with Orpheus again. Orpheus has weathered much controversy to take its place among the director's most acclaimed works.
Despite this, while both are based on the same mythologic legend, neither movie is remotely close to being a carbon copy of the other. In Cocteau's Orpheus, the protagonist is a well known poet in France, who while still adored by his fans seems both burnt out and willing to make fun of the young poets trying to follow in his footsteps. What could be an art-house film that makes fun of art-house culture quickly turns to its mythologic roots however, focusing on the meanings of love and death. When his wife (Eurydice) is killed, and is taken by a supernatural agent of the underworld who serves as a new jealous love interest (Maria Casares), Orpheus has to decide whether he wants to stay alive or die, and whether he wants to stay on earth or live in the underworld (and with whom). The choices carry significant weight, not only for himself but the women he loves.
Access to the underworld is quite literally through mirrors, and Cocteau employs special effects that while now dated were fairly breakthrough for the time and still work extremely well as supernatural gateways made of liquid glass. Played by handsome lead Jean Marais, the character is worthy of the original charismatic Orpheus, but the film does suffer from a lack of realistic love for Eurydice, which makes his choice between rescuing her from Hades or starting a new life seem like an obvious choice and less of a struggle. A few confusing plot elements offer much in stylization but also detract slightly from the film.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As often, I'm impressed by the customer reviews here--enthusiastic and often insightful. People who only know mainstream American movies are bound to be boggled by this one. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
Not as great as Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast", but a fascinating filmPublished 11 months ago by Leroy Jackson
Shot after successful film adaptations of his plays "The Terrible Parents" and "the Two-Headed Eagle" as director, and Ruy Blas as scriptwriter, "Orpheus"... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Omnes
Excellent excellent excellent. If you are looking for something to take you "beyond" look no further than this excellent film.Published on July 16, 2014 by fanoftheliving
Although not for everyone, this is my all-time favorite film. In French, with English subtitles. If at all possible, be sure to get the immensely illuminating special features... Read morePublished on June 17, 2014 by SDS
What can I say that others haven't? This is a wonderful print of a marvelous movie. Beautifully clear image and audio. Cocteau at his best.Published on April 16, 2014 by Bradford Needham
Jean Cocteau was a genius, doing film not by the books, breaking barriers, giving us the unexpected. I loved this film and Beauty and the Beast when I saw both in the mid 70s. Read morePublished on January 30, 2013 by J. Adamick
"Orpheus" was slightly adjusted but this actually adds to the experience. Orphée (Jean Marais) being a poet is fascinated with The Princess - Death (María Casares). Read morePublished on January 10, 2013 by Bernie
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