A compelling cinematic allegory from one of the great artists of the twentieth century, ORPHEUS is the perfect example of magical filmmaking. Updating the Greek myth and adding an autobiographical element--the story is now set in in contemporary Paris--Cocteau casts his longtime companion
Jean Marais as Orpheus, a famous poet married to Eurydice (Marie Dea). When a fellow poet, the handsome young Cegeste (Edouard Dermit), is hit by a passing motorcyclist in front of a popular cafe, Orpheus is invited by an elegant and mysterious Princess (Maria Casares) to accompany her and the
dead poet to her chalet. There, the Princess brings Cegeste "back to life" (by ingeniously running the film backwards for that one shot, Cocteau was able to perform such magic) and disappears through a liquescent mirror into the Underworld. Later, after being chauffeured home by the Princess's
servant, the angel Heurtebise (Francois Perier), Orpheus devotes himself to his poetry, scribbling down indecipherable messages transmitted to him over a car radio. He ignores everything but the radio and fails to even notice when Eurydice is killed. Heurtebise, who has fallen in love with
Eurydice during Orpheus's preoccupation with poetry, comes to suspect that the Princess overstepped her authority as an Angel of Death by killing Eurydice in order to make room for herself in Orpheus's life. Together, Heurtebise and Orpheus pass through the mirror and journey into the Underworld
to find the Princess and Eurydice.
Awarded the top prize at the 1950 Venice Film Festival, ORPHEUS was instantly heralded as a masterpiece. It was blessed with perfect casting (though Cocteau had considered both Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich for Casares's role), photographic innovation, indelible imagery and an exceptional score
by Georges Auric. The film is as much about the creative process as it is about death, but even those who miss its many meanings will still be hypnotized by its style and beauty. As with all Cocteau's films, the written word cannot adequately describe the visual sensations he creates, sensations
that do not diminish with the passage of time.
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