Tuesday, September 28, 2010

#68: Orpheus

(Jean Cocteau, 1949)

The second film in Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy comes nearly 20 years after the first, and it's simultaneously exactly the same and totally different from its predecessor. It's also, for me, a real treat, possibly because I enjoy more conventional narratives, especially when they are laced with such absurdity and cinematic flourish.

The movie is kind of the story of Orpheus (though less of a direct adaptation than another Criterion film, Black Orpheus), but it's also very much about creating art and exploring love and death, which many people would probably argue is the same thing. The film manages to feel so unique and yet so accessible that I might tend towards arguing that it is one of the most mainstream experimental films I have ever seen. Yet it also incorporates many of the visual and thematic elements of the earlier, much more cryptic work.

I didn't love love Orpheus, but I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. Just as Blood of a Poet seemed to have so much influence on film, I could see many of the elements here being spread across the coming decades, particularly the way the film deals with ghosts and supernatural events. I also wonder if the "trial" in the underworld was any inspiration for Albert Brooks's great Defending Your Life. But I digress.

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