Written by: Jean Cocteau
Directed by: Jean Cocteau
Starring: Jean Marais, François Périer, María Casares
My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous TV reviews!
Infatuated with death, a poet travels to the underworld.
This is a movie distinctly ahead of it's time with a complex story and experimental style. It explores love, death, and art as it journeys through the underworld and back. The movie may be old, but this story is still fresh.
Another Cocteau film that is surreal and other worldly. It's a progression from Beauty and the Beast (1946) (read my review). In that Cocteau did a fairy tale, in this he tackles mythology.
Orpheus was a troubadour from Greek mythology. The movie opens with a reciting of the myth.
In the movie, Orpheus is a poet mixed up with a princess. She and a young poet she supports, Cègeste, visit a cafe. When Cègeste starts a fight and is knocked down by motorcycle riders, the princess gets him back in her car with help to take him to the hospital, but orders Orpheus to get in as well to act as a witness.
Orpheus is taken to the princess's chateau where on the way he discovers Cègeste is dead. At the house, the princess reanimates Cègeste entering a mirror with the same two motorcycle riders as before. The effects have to be simple, but are incredibly effective. They look really good.
Orpheus determines he must be dreaming and is told he is. Orpheus endures a wild sequence of events with the recurring question of "are you asleep?" never far away.
This feels like a precursor to David Lynch's Lost Highway (1997) or Mulholland Drive (2001). We constantly wonder what's real and what we're seeing really means. Orpheus wakes in the middle of nowhere, and he stumbles upon the princess's chauffeur who drives him home. The car is stored in Orpheus's garage.
Cègeste transmits poetry and information over the radio that Orpheus hears only in the car. He becomes obsessed with listening to it and ignores all else. Orpheus is listening to the radio hoping for inspiration, but he is no longer a poet or writer, just a listener. Cègeste has caused him to stop living in essence.
A string of events causes Orpheus to travel to the underworld. Love death, and art, where does Orpheus's allegiance lie? Cègeste has already caused him to abandon his art and his wife. While Orpheus travels to the underworld, what's the real reason he's going?
Orpheus claims, "I would follow her to hell." While the chauffeur responds, "You needn't go that far." The question is, which "her" is Orpheus following.
It's a complex story, but it isn't convoluted. I don't want to spoil it, you need to watch it.