Orpheus (1950)

Viewed March 18th

Set in the contemporary Paris of 1950, this is a surreal retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in which the poet Orpheus becomes enmeshed in the lives of beings from the world of the Dead and ultimately is saved from the terrible fate of never being able to look at Eurydice by a Princess from the World of the Dead.

The plot doesn't always make sense, but that's actually when it's the strongest--when it delves into surrealist scenarios involving passing through mirrors wearing rubber gloves, listening to avant-garde poetry from the land of the Dead, and following motorcyclists in odd fascist-sci-fi uniforms. Orpheus is asked what a poet is and he responds "It is a writer who does not write." When Cocteau becomes a poet, not a writer, of cinema, Orpheus becomes an absorbing avant-garde film in the vein of Meshes of the Afternoon or L'age D'or, but with a bigger budget. It's more than that, though, as well. It's a film about the danger of immersion into alternate worlds (like films). Orpheus gets into trouble after crossing through the flat surface of the mirror into the world of magic and death and crumbling architecture--a fantasy world that he's seduced by and almost trapped within. What's interesting is that, in this telling of the myth, it's Princess of Death and her henchman that conspire to push Orpheus, along with his Eurydice, back out to reality by sacrificing themselves. They know he's no good stuck in the mirror fantasy. The film ends not with Orpheus and Eurydice, but with the tragic inhabitants of the death world going deeper into the darkness of the mirror world, to a troubling fate that's left unnamed.