Orpheus (1949)

Genres - Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Romantic Fantasy  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Wiener

The second of filmmaker Jean Cocteau's films about the myth of Orpheus is the most accessible and well-crafted. The Criterion DVD is the best way to experience the film, especially for cinematographer Nicolas Hayer's noir-ish black-and-white imagery. Jean Marais, usually more a screen icon than persuasive actor, is a bit overwrought as Orpheus, but everyone in the supporting cast is solid, especially Maria Casares as the alluring Princess of Death and Francois Perier as Heurtibise, her lovestruck chauffeur. Cocteau expands on some of the themes he suggested in Blood of a Poet concerning the struggle of the artist to understand his role in the physical world and what death may entail, and he continues to explore his fascination with mirrors as portals between this life and the afterlife. Setting the film in the present allows Cocteau to employ one witty touch: Orpheus sitting in the Princess' Rolls Royce, listening to the car radio, which broadcasts messages from the afterlife.