This year’s special retrospective slot is devoted to an excellent new print of Jean Cocteau’s classic Orphee. One of the cinema’s great fantasies, Cocteau’s very personal interpretation of the Greek myth is set in 1950s Paris and stars Jean Marais as Orpheus, a famous poet married to Eurydice (Marie Dea). Orpheus falls in love with the Princess of Death (Maria Casares), while her chauffeur, the angel Heurtebise (François Perier), falls for the poet’s wife. When Heurtebise takes Eurydice to the Underworld through the looking-glass, Orpheus follows to get her back. Cocteau’s marvellous film extended the frontiers of cinema and pioneered special effects which even Hollywood would later incorporate into its standard repertoire. It is, in fact, no exaggeration to say that Orphee, as well as being the most complete and successful achievement of Cocteau’s cinema, is a film as revolutionary today as was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in its time. Cocteau reasserted a romantic mood in an otherwise dour 1950s French cinema. His film emphasises a sense of wonder, ritual, the power of illusion and magic, reinterpreting them in a contemporary setting which brought the myth closer and gave it a disturbing edge of reality. It was an inspiration to many French filmmakers of the New Wave, including Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard, who paid tribute to its many innovations.
France, 1950. English subtitles. Black and white. 112 mins.

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