Orpheus (Orphée) (Directors Suite) (1950)
Audio Commentary-Richard Misek , Doctoral Student University of Melbourne
Booklet-Seiries of Specially Designed Artcards
|Year Of Production||1950|
|Running Time||94:51 (Case: 92)|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Jean Cocteau|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
It is a film that has as many detractors as admirers. Check out Dan Schnieder's snarly review for an attempt by a man without apparent poetic sensibility to understand a film that is entirely poetic. Those who dislike the film pass it off as a pretentious pseudo surrealist French art piece not realizing that that is precisely the reason that so many adore it.
In writing La belle et la bete (Beauty and the Beast), Cocteau based his film on an old legend. For Orphee he delves even further into the past, back to classical Greece to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.
In the original myth, Orpheus was a fabulous musician. Deeply in love with Eurydice, was overcome with grief when she was killed by a snake. He descended into Hades to find her and so impressed Hades with his lyre playing that he permitted Orpheus to take Eurydice back to the world of the living. His only requirement was that Orpheus not look back at Eurydice until they had arrived in the upper world. The story ends unhappily, as do many Greek myths, with Eurydice returning to the underworld and Orpheus being torn to pieces with only his head remaining.
The gruesome ending is only one of many changes that Cocteau made to the story. His Orpheus (Jean Marais) is a poet who is nationally famous in France. An up and coming poet Cegeste is producing more cutting edge work and threatens to usurp Orpheus' throne. Amongst poets Orpheus is despised as representing the old guard.
Sitting at a poet's café one afternoon, Orpheus sees the drunken Cegeste (Eduard Dermithe) arriving with a mysterious woman in black, known only as The Princess (Maria Casares). After a fight breaks out at the café, Cegeste is arrested. He breaks free from the police and runs off, only to be mown down by two riders on motorcycles. The Princess demands that Orpheus assist her with removing the dead Cegeste. Transfixed by her beauty, he agrees.
At a decrepit mansion Orpheus sees Cegeste being led through a mirror into another world, into which he cannot follow. When he awakens, he is met by The Princess' chauffeur Heurtebise (Francois Perier) who not only comes to live with Orpheus and Eurydice but falls in love with Eurydice.
Orpheus begins to ignore his wife as he becomes obsessed with a voice on the car radio reading out snatches of poetry, which he duly incorporates into his own work. The trouble is that the poet community recognizes these words as Cegeste's and suspects Orpheus of having a part in his death.
Although the story is updated to the 1950's, the central idea of Orpheus' journey into the underworld to save Eurydice is maintained. Cocteau's use of bombed out Parisian buildings to represent the decent to Hades is quite powerful. Where he does alter the story is that The Princess is Death and Heurtebise one of her henchmen have both made the serious mistake of falling in love with mortals. In a scene reminiscent of wartime interrogations the two agents of the afterlife are grilled intensely on their motives.
In 1950 Orphee was seen as a work of the avant-garde. The script is full of poetic phrases although it is difficult to conclude whether the work is deeply textured as some believe or empty of real meaning. Either way it is an enjoyable watch. It is less shocking and controversial now and the special effects, which mainly consist of reversed film, are dated.
The concept of mirrors being an entry point to the after life is fascinating and Cocteau has surrounded himself with a quality ensemble. Jean Marais may never have been the best French actor, he was the longtime companion of Cocteau, but no-one plays the self absorbed poet better than he. Maria Casares is perfect as the icy Death barely able to contain her emotions beneath the cold exterior.
Like Cocteau's other films the costuming is impeccable. Although the camerawork is unadorned the film has a glow to it that conveys the sense of "waking sleep". The film is surprisingly modern with a hip vibe that is worlds away from anything coming out of Hollywood at the time.
Give Orphee a go and it will bear rewards. After all when was the last time that a feature film centred on life and death struggled in the poetry community?
Orphee is presented on DVD in a 1.33:1 apsect ratio, almost identical to its cinematic 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
To assess its picture quality it is worth comparing it against Beauty and The Beast. That film had been restored and looked amazingly good for its humble history and age. It is not as easy to tell whether Orphee has been through a rigorous restoration process.
The picture is fairly soft but this seems to have been a deliberate choice on the part of the director as it gives the whole film a somewhat dreamy effect.
There are artefacts sprinkled throughout, though none so large to be truly disturbing. There is minimal damage and the print seems to have been kept in pretty good shape with no real problems at the reel changes.
The subtitles are clear and easy to read.
There are no compression problems and the print is mostly flicker free. The level of grain is reasonably high but still not too troubling.
All in all, the picture looks remarkably good for a movie which is almost 60 years old.
The sound for Orphee is French Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 running at 224 Kb/s. There is a noticeable hiss in Orphee which is harder to hear in the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. Otherwise the sound quality is reasonably good.
The mono constrains the full breadth of the orchestral music of George Auric, although it is still effective particularly in the first scene of walking through the underworld.
Dialogue is fine and there are no apparent problems with audio sync.
Not surprisingly, Cocteau also features the music of Gluck, namely the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from his opera Orfeo Ed Euridice.
|Surround Channel Use|
The commentary by Doctoral Student Richard Misek is definitely worth a listen. He is not only a fan of the film but has a trunk load of knowledge about Cocteau and his circle of friends. For a man like Cocteau who knew some of the most interesting and controversial figures of the twentieth century this proves a valuable insight.
Misek is not a raconteur but he is a clear and engaging speaker.
As with Beauty the art cards are nice to look at but I am not really sure what to do with them.
Whilst I was pleased to get the commentary it still strikes me that Cocteau fans have missed out on an opportunity to see an extra about the great man. Beauty and Orphee are the only two of Cocteaus films to be likely to get a DVD release here in the near future and it is a pity that there is nothing more included in these otherwise excellent Madman sets.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Fans of the film will either be shocked or overjoyed that this version is the only one that can be bought as an individual film. The Criterion Collection in Region 1 includes the three films which make up the so-called (but very loose) Orphic Trilogy .
All the films are worth seeing but Orphee is easily the most accessible.
Buy the Region 4 for this film. Diehard fans, however, will probably want the three. No word yet on any Region 4 releases for the others.
Orphee is a must see for anyone interested in the art film or those keen on French cinema. Despite the tag of surrealist that has been attached to it is is by no means a difficult film.
The transfer is excellent considering the age of the film.
The extras, specifically the commentary, are worthwhile although I craved for more.
|DVD||Pioneer BDP-LX70 Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
|Display||Pioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||JBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer|