Orphée

(Orpheus)
France 1950. Director: Jean Cocteau
Cast: Jean Marais, Marie Déa, Maria Casarès, François Périer, Edouard Dermithe

Poet, playwright, and novelist Jean Cocteau’s astonishing re-working of the Orpheus myth is widely considered his finest achievement in cinema — a perfect marriage between Greek legend and the director’s own personal mythology. Jean Marais (Cocteau’s favourite actor) plays the hero, a young poet who frequents the sidewalk cafes of a Paris only recently freed from the dark cloud of Occupation. Marie Déa is Eurydice, Orphée’s pregnant wife. Maria Casarès is the Princess of Death, a mysterious figure with whom Orphée falls in love. After the Princess has the neglected Eurydice killed, Orphée — grief-stricken, but still obsessed with the Princess — passes through the looking glass in an attempt to rescue his wife from the Underworld. Cocteau renders Orphée’s journey into the unknown with a bag of cinematic tricks worthy of Georges Méliès. Effectively contrasting this fantastic realm with Orphée’s mundane domestic existence, he suggests that the plight of his poet-protagonist — and of all creative artists — is to be forever caught between the real world and the world of the imagination. “Orphée is one of the French cinema’s supreme masterpieces, magnificently acted and photographed, and expressing the very quintessence of Cocteau’s vision and genius” (Tom Milne). B&W, 35mm, in French with English subtitles. 112 mins.

REVIEWS

"Jean Cocteau's scripting and directing give the film its proper key of unworldliness."

Variety | full review

"Cocteau's visual imagination, leading us through mirrors into a bomb-scarred dreamworld governed by the femme fatale of Death, is enduringly magical and strongly cinematic."

Empire | full review

"Full of haunting imagery plucked from the realm of fairy tales, Orphée is one of the great cinematic fantasies of the 20th century."

BBC | full review