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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
7:00 p.m. Orpheus
Jean Cocteau (France, 1949)

(Orphée). Of Cocteau, Melville said, "I loved that man. He was intelligence, charm, talent itself—one of the real elite." Cocteau's interpretation of the Orpheus myth is dreamlike—at once personal and distanced, classic and terminally mod. Maria Casarès as the Princess of Death travels in a Rolls Royce, receives her instructions in code via radio, and is escorted in her journeys between this world and the next by an entourage of living-dead leather-clad motorcyclists. Orphée (Jean Marais) is a Left Bank poet who becomes fascinated by these radio messages and determines to discover their secret for himself. Cocteau and cinematographer Nicolas Hayer create an imaginary town out of Paris locations; the mirrors that lure the poet also draw the viewer into his fascination with the real world, the world of the imagination, and the surface tension between them. 

• Written by Cocteau. Photographed by Nicolas Hayer. With Jean Marais, Maria Casarès, François Perior, Marie Dea. (91 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Janus Films/ Criterion Collection)