22 March 2014 | cafescott
Beyond the mirror
I enjoy the enthusiasm from user reviewer Dave G ("One of the truly great masterpieces of cinema", Dave G from Sheffield, England, 25 January 2000). Also, from peterehoward ("The closest cinema has come to poetry", peterehoward, United Kingdom, 13 November 2005).
Good background information can be found from rdoyle29 ("A timeless fantasy classic", rdoyle29 from Winnipeg, Canada, 17 September 2000). In addition, Ed from NY, NY ("the most poetic of all films", Ed from New York, NY, 23 May 2002) does a good job in figuring out a perplexing plot turn near the end.
Jean Cocteau's "Orpheus" (1950) is a bizarre, dream-like journey to the Underworld and back. It is surprising not only because of the depth of its madness, but also because it came out of seemingly buoyant, post-war France. By today's standards the pacing is a little slow; and it is occasionally soporific. However, if you have the patience for it the feeling is this is a cinematic masterpiece that demands repeated viewing.
Cocteau's nightmarish retelling of the Greek legend featuring poet Orpheus, his frequently-ignored wife Eurydice and the Princess of Death borrows from personal memories of the director as well as Francophile war experiences. For example, the cryptic radio personality that Orpheus obsesses over is regarded to represent the BBC communicating coded words to the French Resistance. In addition, the mob that will assault Orpheus is derived from early intellectual critics of Cocteau's art.
The actors are first-rate. Cocteau's former lover, Jean Marais, is convincing as a celebrity who can compel others with his magnetism. However, two other cast members are exceptional. Maria Casares is mesmerizing as the Princess of Death. François Périer is also note-perfect as the chauffeur Heurtebise. Ms. Casares, who steals all of her scenes, speaks (the frequently insane) lines of her underworld character with total conviction; she is a principal source of the pervasive horror. Périer's Heurtebise is another character who appears at times to be speaking from another world.
Visually, Cocteau is interesting throughout. As a writer he creates a grotesque universe. This is a great way to escape mundane human existence--and perhaps, a look at what is coming in the afterlife.