Le testament d'Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus) (Directors Suite) (1960)

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Released 10-Nov-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Jean Cocteau's first feature film - The Blood of a Poet
Trailer-Four Directors Suite trailers
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1960
Running Time 76:45 (Case: 79)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jean Cocteau
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jean Cocteau
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Georges Auric


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    

The Testament of Orpheus is simply a machine for creating meanings. The film offers the viewer hieroglyphics that he can interpret as he pleases so as to quench his inquisitive thirst for Cartesianism.

     The quote above is taken from Jean Cocteau's own writings on The Testament of Orpheus. In these writings he discusses a number of topics such as the meaning of his films, symbolism and perception and reality. He mentions Cartesianism, the philosophy of Rene Descartes which stated that the mind was separate from the body. Sensation and the perception of reality were thought to be the source of untruth and illusions, with the only reliable truths to be had in the existence of a metaphysical mind. It is certainly true that one thing that the Orphic trilogy of films (i.e. the three films that Jean Cocteau made, The Blood of a Poet in 1932, Orpheus in 1950 and The Testament of Orpheus in 1960 which share the theme of the creativity of an artist and their work which is linked to the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus bringing the love of his life, Eurydice, from the underworld, symbolising, in Cocteau's life as an artist, his struggle to bring his creative ideas to life) have in common is the surrealist element of the perception of reality and all three films share distinctive special effects to highlight this such as statues coming to life, a flipped negative to represent the underworld and reversed shots (e.g. filming an actor falling and then reversing the film so that it shows them rising. In Orpheus we see this occur as a symbol of the dead coming to life, similarly in The Testament of Orpheus we see a character come out of the sea and stand on the edge of a cliff).

     The Testament of Orpheus serves as an epilogue or postscript to Orpheus, made ten years earlier in 1950. In the last scene of Orpheus, the Princess (Maria Casares) and Heurtebise (Francois Perier), stand trial for falling in love. The poet Cegeste, who had died at the beginning of Orpheus and was the reason for the descent into the underworld, is left abandoned. The Testament of Orpheus, subtitled Do Not Ask Me Why, begins with Cocteau himself, who appears as a ghost haunting a scientist at various points of his life, from youth (played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, fresh from his starring role in Francois Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups or The 400 Blows, that film which kick-started the whole French New Wave movement in the 1960s) to old age (played by Henri Cremieux). Cocteau is stuck in time and only the invention of the professor's faster-than-light bullets can help him escape this netherworld of non-existence.

     When Cocteau is brought back to the present he is met by Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe) from Orpheus, who comes out of the sea to accuse Cocteau of negligence for leaving his fate unresolved. However, Cegeste has aged and the events of the film from this point herewith parody real life somewhat, just as Cegeste says: "this is no longer a film; this is life," and as the child of the artist (figuratively and literally, since Dermithe was Cocteau's adopted son), he has come to bring Cocteau before his judges: the Princess and Heurtebise. Cocteau in this mock trial of his artistic life seeks to justify himself through the process of creating his art over his lifetime, both to himself and his contemporary fellow artists such as Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Roger Vadim, Charles Aznavour, and Yul Brynner who appear in cameos in this film under the final statement, "You may notice many well-known people have appeared in this film. They were chosen not because they are famous but because they suited the part and because they are my friends".

     The Testament of Orpheus has been labelled by critics as self-indulgent and narcissistic because of Jean Cocteau's central role in it; after all, he is the only credited actor in this film. Other critics have defended the work, perhaps due to the support of Cocteau's peers who appear in the film and the financial support of Francois Truffaut, who donated his winnings from The 400 Blows to allow Cocteau to complete filming. One critic who has panned Jean Cocteau, both as poet and filmmaker, is Dan Schneider, an American poet and film critic who has provided an interesting counter-criticism against this film here: http://www.altfg.com/blog/film-reviews/the-testament-of-orpheus-jean-cocteau/

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Transfer Quality

Video

     This transfer of The Testament of Orpheus is equal in quality to the Region 1 Criterion Collection transfer, available in their Orphic Trilogy Box set release and which is now out-of-print.

     The aspect ratio is 1:33:1 full-frame, not 16x9 enhanced. The main transfer is presented on a dual-layered DVD9 disc which is 6.90 gb in size. The main feature is only about 77 minutes in length and is found on the first layer of the DVD9 as there is no RSDL change in the film. The second layer of the DVD contains the first instalment of the Orphic Trilogy, The Blood of a Poet. The average bitrate is 6.99 m/b per sec, which is quite good, as is the sharpness of the image, which is surprising for a low-budget independent film of this age.

     The black-and-white transfer is good overall. It is a little dull in places, but only in some interior scenes that could have used better lighting perhaps. There is a natural film-grain present; this is not caused by any compression issues of the film transferred to DVD. Film artefacts are minimal, mainly minor scratches and dust. There are a few lines across the image and some instances of telecine wobble.

     Subtitles are available in default white or alternative yellow in English. There is no noticeable RSDL change because, as mentioned earlier, the two main features on this DVD are less than 77 minutes in length and they are contained on each layer of the DVD9 disc.

Video Ratings Summary
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Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Georges Auric provides an eclectic soundtrack in this film. There are snippets of diagetic (sounds within the film) and non-diagetic (sounds outside of the film, superimposed over the scene) music which contrast with the many scenes of dialogue.

     The main audio track is in French. It is a mono Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 224 kbps. Dialogue is clear but not always synchronised. Due to low budgetary nature of the filming I would suspect that some dialogue was added in post-production.

     The music by Georges Auric consists of some beautiful string quartet pieces. Jacques Metehen's jazz compositions are played by musicians in the film and Christoph Willibald Gluck's composition, Orphee et Euridice provides a haunting counter-theme for the soundtrack also.

     As the main soundtrack is mono, there is no surround channel usage. The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
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Extras

The Blood of a Poet (1930), the first instalment of Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy (48:14)

     Included here is Jean Cocteau's first feature film, The Blood of a Poet. It shares the same surrealist theme of Cocteau's filmmaking and the use of simple special effects, such as reverse shots. The Blood of a Poet was funded by Charles, Vicomte de Noailles, who gave Cocteau 1,000,000 francs to make it.

     The Blood of a Poet is divided into four sections. The first section shows an artist who has a mouth appear on his hand. He tries to get rid of it and after falling asleep, he awakes to wipe his hand over the mouth of statue. In section two, the statue convinces the artist to walk through a mirror. He finds himself in a hotel where he peeks through keyholes to witness an opium smoker and a hermaphrodite. The artist is given a gun and told by a voice, off-screen, to shoot himself, which he does but doesn't die. The artist returns to smash the statue. In the third section, one boy has a snowball fight with another, killing him because his ball of snow turns out to be made of marble. In the last section, a card shark plays a game with a woman over the body of the dead boy. A group of people look on, like an audience in a theatre. The boy's guardian angel removes an Ace of Hearts which the card shark was using to cheat. After he realises that he can't win, the card shark commits suicide as the theatre party applauds. The woman player changes into the formerly smashed statue and walks off through the snow, leaving no footprints.

     Surrealist scenes are intercut throughout this film, including spinning wire models of a human head and rotating double-sided masks. The video and audio transfer is not of the same quality as The Testament of Orpheus. The video transfer includes many instances of film damage such as scratches, lines across the image, contrast flickering and print damage. The audio contains pops and crackles as well as audible background hiss. It's difficult to interpret the plot in this film, other than to remark that the film is about Cocteau's ideas on creativity and its toll on the life of an artist.

     The Blood of a Poet was interpreted as containing an anti-Christian message (which it doesn't) in 1930, and as a result of the controversy of Luis Bunuel’s similarly surrealist film, L'Âge d'Or with it's anti-authoritarian theme against the Catholic Church, The Blood of a Poet was withheld from general release in 1930, and finally premiered in Paris in 1932.

Directors Suite trailers

     Four trailers are included for David Lean's Summertime, Yasujiro Ozu's Floating Weeds, Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Testament of Orpheus is available in Region 1 in the Jean Cocteau Orphic Trilogy Box set by the Criterion Collection with The Blood of a Poet and Orpheus. The extras in this Box set include Edgardo Cozarinsky’s renowned 66-minute 1984 documentary Jean Cocteau: Autoportrait d’un Inconnu (Autobiography of an Unknown), Villa Santo Sospir, a 16mm colour film by Cocteau featuring many of the locations used in The Testament of Orpheus, a gallery of rare behind-the-scenes photos from The Blood of a Poet, a collection of Cocteau’s writings on the trilogy, including a transcript of his lecture at the 1932 debut screening of The Blood of a Poet and a Cocteau filmography. Unfortunately, this fine DVD release is now out-of-print. Hence, the only way to see this film on DVD is to view it with this faithful port of the Region 1 Criterion Collection by Madman's Directors Suite label.

Summary

     As the Region 1 Criterion Collection Box set release of Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy is no longer available, this Region 4 release of The Testament of Orpheus and The Blood of a Poet is the only way to view these films on DVD. I would recommend viewing Madman's 2007 release of Orpheus first prior to watching The Testament of Orpheus, as the latter film serves as an epilogue to the events of the former one.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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