ORPHEE (Jean Cocteau) Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Cocteau's 1949 masterpiece is one of the most enduring of all experimental films.
Orphée (Jean Marais) is a famous well-coiffed Parisian poet scorned by a younger generation of artists. When two leather-clad motorcyclists strike down loutish up-and-coming scribe Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe), a princess (Maréa Casares) carts the victim away in a Rolls Royce and orders Orphée to come along as a witness.
What follows is a fascinating mix of Greek myth, love triangle and philosophical look at life and art.
Cocteau was always drawn to magic and enchantment; he'd made Beauty And The Beast a few years earlier. The way he transforms ordinary life remains hypnotic. Mirrors, gloves, a car radio - all of these seemingly banal things take on symbolic weight in the story. Conversely, when we finally glimpse the underworld, it's presided over by a tribunal of boring old men.
Cocteau cast his lover Marais (who played the Beast/prince) as the title character, and his flinty, stubborn look is right for a man who's more absorbed in his art than in his pregnant wife, Eurydice (Marie Déa).
The director wanted Garbo or Dietrich as the princess, and you can't help but wonder what either would have done as the dominatrix of death, a woman who speaks the hands-down funniest line in the film.
Orphée joins Cocteau's 1930 film Blood Of A Poet and other don't-miss films as part of Cinematheque's Cinema Of Transformation series, part of the city-wide Metamorphosis Festival. (March 26, Cinematheque)