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on April 1, 2012
Criterion has put out two films from the 1950s that pay homage to the Greek story of love and death they are named after, both by french directors: 'Orpheus', directed by Jean Cocteau (1950), and 'Black Orpheus', by Marcel Camus (1959).

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. Overall however a very original, visually compelling, and entertaining interpretation of the Greek myth.

This film is one part of Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy (The Criterion Collection), although it is not a trilogy in the true sense and this reviewed film can be seen as a stand alone effort. I would recommend getting this bluray instead of the Orphic Trilogy to save some money: IMHO this Orpheus is the best of the bunch, and I found the triology to appeal primarilly to those more interested in Cocteau "the man" rather than his movies.
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on April 15, 2012
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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on June 17, 2017
Brilliant film and beautifully presented. The impact and influence of Cocteau's masterpiece is evident once you allow the river to flow through you. Listen and watch with ease, allow the transmission to be received. What's he talking about? Watch the film, then you'll know!

Now. If only the other two films in the Orpheus Trilogy were available from Criterion....
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on April 24, 2017
better sound and image. well, when i think of it i first saw this many years ago on the big screen, and then on VHS, then on DVD. the Bluray helps that much more. very good performances and cocteau is kept under control enough to make an ordinary but extraordinary film out of his life and loves.
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on December 16, 2016
A CINEMATIC MASTERPIECE--COLLAGE OF WIT, WISDOM, POETRY, ARTISTRY IN THE VERY FRONT RANKS OF 20TH-CENTURY FILM.
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on September 7, 2011
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. The film closes with soaring orchestrations, followed by a coda of drums; intermittently throughout the picture, those drums provide a memorable background for the poets / "bacchantes", their brawling at the Café des Poètes, as well as for the Underworld, for which the ruins of the Saint-Cyr military academy provide a fantastic visual backdrop.

A second DVD of supplemental material provides a wealth of information about Cocteau, for those interested in learning more. By way of the various interviews, documentaries and programs included on the supplemental DVD, one can become more familiar with his archetypes. In one documentary, Cocteau talks about how people often worship the name of an artist, without even knowing their work; they worship fame for fame's sake. So perhaps Cocteau foresaw the development of our current culture that is filled with vacuous celebrities who celebrate the mundane. And yet, maybe hypocritically, he acknowledges the advantages of fame. As much as he was a key figure of the avant-garde of his era, he was also interested in having as big an audience as possible.

Stephen C. Bird, Author of "Any Resemblance To A Coincidence Is Accidental"
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on February 3, 2012
I hadn't seen this in years, I have it on VHS but don't have use of a VHS player(too lazy to hook it up, plus no HDMI output etc)... so it's strange to watch this now. Cocteau used his typically novel film techniques to the point of humor sometimes, but this movie exhibits a couple of his most famous scenes that shouldn't be missed by those who love film history. I won't even go into the story/theme why spoil it completely? If you like "art" films then check it out. Ultimately this is a romantic film in nature with Cocteau once again weaving an otherworldly spell of sorts upon the world of cinema. 5 stars simply because it is unique for those who have patience.
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on August 29, 2014
Gawd, I love this movie! I've been a fan of Cocteau since I first saw "La Belle et Le Bete" eons ago. I'm sad that it too me so long to discover this one. It is an engrossing retelling of the Orpheus myth set in contemporary times. Cocteau is always able to tell a superb visual story with very low tech effects, and this is also the case here. I especially liked his use of the bombed out ruins of Paris for his purgatorial mise en scene. And his use of slow motion (now more a cliche than a groundbreaking technique) really worked here. Apart from the craft, this is a deeply moving and heartfelt story that will haunt your memory.
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I totally loved this, and was able to follow it in French which is much more dramatic and flowery and oddly more fitting than the subtitles. This film foreshadowed THE MATRIX in many ways that you will be able to pick out, from Trinity's costume, to agents. Cocteau is a wildly insane genius. There is a lot of originality in here. While it is not completely faithful to the original Greek/Roman Myth, See it, as "Filme."
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on May 20, 2011
***** ***** ***** SPOILERS ***** ***** *****
by Jean Cocteau

The ultimate self-centered workaholic screws up good marriage story in all filmdom. Our lead boy is a poet who happens to be married so he has a pregnant girl to ignore. His attention is centered on himself, his love of his work & fame. Admittedly he hasn't been told of the pregnancy but the movie illustrates it would've made no difference. Work of course includes applying his poetic muse to the subject of death.

This attention draws the notice of Death (played by a hetero female) who, as females sometimes do, falls in love with this new & insistent suitor. The wife becomes of course an obstacle to the desire of Death & is easily removed by the killing of the wife & her transport to Death's domain.

Now our boy notices he has lost something he cared about & with the help of one of Death's minion's crosses into Death's domain. He's a true man so he's confused about which girl he is going after. Unlike most Frenchmen, I don't know why, he doesn't admit he'd like both. There is some really nice scenery & philosophizing about death in this show & the middle portion is taken up with that.

In Death's domain her main minion turns rat & she is brought before a review board for exceeding her orders & authority. It is decided that the wife will be returned to life with her poetic husband but only on the condition that he never look upon her. This is like being offered parole with conditions attached that will get your buttinski returned to the joint ASAP. Smart people turn this kind of release down but smart isn't the subject of this movie.

The couple returns to life as we know it & they try to keep her out of his eye. Fat chance. Especially since the main minion has returned to help monitor the enforcement of the condition. The minion has BTW fallen in love with the wife as his wife in real life treated him badly, he can't resist this good woman who suffers patiently for her love.

Needless to say the man spies his wife in a mirror the minion fails to warn them about (yeah fails to warn). His wife is immediately taken from him forever & the poet gets himself killed trying to play badass, like poets & guns are a smart mix.

Death waiting for his return greets him & makes a fateful decision, in order to make him immortal (return him to life) a sacrifice is necessary so she chooses to have him smothered there in Death's domain. It's done by main minion of course. She then orders minion (against rules) to escort the poet back through time & return him to the life he had before she fell for him. This being Death's selfless act of love. The wife is of course asleep in their bed when he is returned to life & there they are none the wiser & no better off.

Death & main minion are arrested & escorted out of sight. Presumably to the hearing room again for what is described as a not nice dispensation. Great effects done here, unobtrusively & a fascinating take on death & inter-dimensional travel. I would have loved this like La Belle et La Bete if it had been set in a past or future time frame. I can just picture it set in the same period as La Belle et La Bete but that's a bit much for a director to have to adhere to since it is only my wish & he forgot to ask me for my preference.
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