Orphée (Orpheus) is Jean Cocteau’s version of the Orpheus myth, set in post-war Paris. The lead, played by Jean Marais (who was Cocteau’s on/off lover for many years), is a well-known poet rather than a lyre player, and a deeply homoerotic motorcycle gang plays a part. He has to go into the underworld (through a mirror, echoing a similar act in the even more surreal Blood of a Poet), and what ensues is a magical movie that’s one of Cocteau’s very best films.
It’s also one of the best interpretations of Greek myth ever committed to film, a completely magical, surreal 20th century classic. It’s easy to understand why David Lynch has said that Cocteau was his favourite surrealist filmmaker. It starts out looking like a realistic film, and gradually dissolves into something very different. And that’s what I want from a film, that wonder and magic. The special effects are still breathtaking. It is of course beautifully filmed, and one of the most perfect movies in every way.
Cocteau only made a handful of films, but he was an artist who dabbled in multiple media. Regardless, he’s a filmmaker whose work will last, because this kind of result provides a reason for there to even be films. Orphée is quite simply an unforgettable film by one of the masters of cinema, whose influence has been huge. Cocteau should be spoken with in the same breath as Buñuel, who didn’t always get a chance to realise his visions. Fans of The Smiths will find out where Morrissey lifted the cover for the “This Charming Man” single as well.
This new restoration and Blu-Ray transfer comes with various interviews with film historians and filmmakers, commentary by Roland François Lack, the 2018 re-release trailer, a stills gallery, and a short film by Jean Cocteau, in which he gives you a tour of his famous villa. There’s also a large booklet with essays on the film.