- LULU / PANDORA'S BOX
- DAPHNIS AND CHLOE
- FEDRA
- THE FUGITIVE KIND
- THE TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS
- PHAEDRA
- HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS
- YOUNG APHRODITES
- CONTEMPT
- PROMETHEUS FROM THE VISEVICE ISLAND
- SANDRA OF A THOUSAND DELIGHTS
- THE GOLDEN THING
- THE TRAVELLING PLAYERS
- EURIDICE BA 2037
- IPHIGENIA
- A DREAM OF PASSION
- CLASH OF THE TITANS
- THE YEARS OF THE BIG HEAT
- ENIOCHUS - THE CHARIOTEER
- ANTIGONE
- EDIPO ALCADE
- THAT'S LIFE
- BLADE RUNNER
- VERTIGO
- MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA
- ORPHEUS
- PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
- ULYSSES
- HERACLES AND THE QUEEN OF LYDIA
- BLACK ORPHEUS
- ANTIGONE
- ELECTRA
- JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
- GORGON
- OEDIPUS REX
- ILLIAC PASSION
- THE CANNIBALS
- EDEA
- NOTES FOR AN AFRICAN ORESTEIA
- FOR ELECTRA
- PROMETHEUS IN THE SECOND PERSON
- VOYAGE TO CYTHERA
- ULYSSES' GAZE
- MATRIX
- O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?

ORPHEUS
ORPHEE
France, 1950


Directed by: Jean Cocteau. Screenplay: Jean Cocteau. Director of Photography: Nicolas Hayer. Set Design: Jean d’Eaubonne. Mechanicals: Christian Bérard. Costume Design: Marcel Escoffier. Music: Georges Auric. Film Editor: Jacqueline Sadoul. Cast: Jean Marais (Orpheus), Maria Casarès (Death), François Périer (Heurtebise), Marie Déa (Eurydice), Edouard Dermit (Cégeste), Juliette Gréco (Aglaonice), Pierre Bertin (Inspector), Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Varennes, Claude Mauriac, Jean-Pierre Mocky. Production: André Paulvé for Les Films du Palais-Royal. Length: 112 min. Black and white.

Cocteau’s latest film is a modern re-telling of the Orphic myth. His Orphée (Jean Marais) is a successful and envied French poet. He encounters Death, an elegant and mysterious Princess (Maria Casarès) who travels in a luxurious Rolls Royce, driven by her chauffeur (François Périer). This chauffeur, Heurtebise, is one of the many living dead who serve her; her immediate lethal agents are two motor cyclists, her headquarters a deserted villa. She receives her instructions in code from a radio: when Orphée hears these strange messages, he becomes fascinated by them, and determines to discover their secret for himself. He neglects his wife, Eurydice, who in despair turns to some female friends, the Bacchantes (a dancing club for women). The Princess, enamoured of Orphée, disobeys orders and has her motor cyclists run down Eurydice on the road. Orphée, guided by the sympathetic Heurtebise, goes down to the Shades to recover her. There he finds the Princess being judged for her disobedience by a Supreme Tribunal, which allows him to take back Eurydice on condition that he never looks at her again. They return to the real world, with the aid of Heurtebise; but Eurydice, in desperation, decides to die a second time by forcing her husband to look at her. At the same time, the angry Bacchantes descend upon Orphée’s house, and in a brawl Orphée is shot. In the Shades, the Princess is waiting for him; but, realising the impossibility of her love, she orders Heurtebise to bring Orphée back to life, to rejoin Eurydice.

The opposite of love
[...] In view of [Cocteau’s] enigmatic personal mythology it is clearly hopeless to attach "philosophical" meanings to the film. As with Marienbad, many interpretations nearly fit, but none really fits. Indeed, the idea of an "interpretation" which "explains" everything is itself a myth. Cocteau declares that "the film sets out to be nothing but the paraphrase of a Classical Greek myth" (though what are Heurtebise, Cègéste doing there?). The film "meaning" is, of course, as nebulous as the "meaning" of the Greek myth (which has never been agreed on). The film is not a message hidden in some obscure code, but simply, a story, a battery of emotional provocations. Enriching as they are, the interpretations mentioned above all have one limitation; they are too simple, they fail to take into account the fact that, far from symbolizing some vague abstraction or other, each character is torn between opposite desires. One can speak of themes, but not of symbols.
Cocteau sees three themes in the film. First, the successive death and counter-deaths that a poet must undergo in order to become, in Mallarmé’s words, "Tel qu’en lui-mme enfin l’éternité le change" ("such that at last eternity transforms him into himself"). Second, the theme of inspiration: "It is when Orphée renounces his own themes, and accepts messages from the outside, that everything is spoiled." The third theme is that of free-will. "Heurtebise", writes Cocteau, "is not at all an angel as he was in the play and as he is often said to be. He is a young dead soul, in the service of one of the innumerable satellites of death. He is yet scarcely tainted by death. On several occasions, he tries to forewarn people; for example, Orphée of the worthless of the radio messages, and Eurydice of the accident which will happen on the road. But the destiny which he attempts to frustrate by an act on free-will is a destiny initiated by the Princess. Hence the Superior Tribunal has no accusation to make against him...
The Princess and Heurtebise are not simply "Death"; they are further advanced in death than the living. Throughout the film, Heurtebise opposes the Princess. There is a continuity between the dead and the living – the glazier in the Zone believes he is still alive, his habits persist. The hotel of Marienbad is situated in a posh suburb of the Zone. The state of total death towards which we are all slowly drifting is inconceivable, perhaps it does not exist, perhaps there is always the shadow of a shadow of a shadow, recurring like decimals.
In a general way, death is the opposite of love; maybe it is the ultimate bureaucracy, a concentrationary universe, fate. In so far as the Princess rebels against it, we can call the film Countess Dracula Versus the Gestapo.

Raymond Durgnat
"Films & Filming", Vol. 10, October 1963