Criterion Collection: Orpheus
Cinematic poet Jean Cocteau explored the myth of Orpheus on no fewer than three occasions: Le Sang d'Un Poete (Blood of a Poet, 1930), Orphee (Orpheus, 1949) and Le Testament d'Orphee (1960). This second of his "Orpheus" trilogy stars Jean Marais in the title role. Updated to contemporary Paris (albeit a Paris never seen before or since), the story concerns a sensitive young poet named Orpheus, who is married to the lovely Eurydice (Marie Dea). Orpheus' friend Cegeste (Edouard Dermit) is killed in a traffic accident. In the hospital morgue, Cegeste's patroness, The Princess of Death (Maria Casares), revives the young man; then, both Cegeste and Princess pass into the Underworld. Back on earth, Orpheus receives cryptic messages from Cegeste's spirit, as well as nocturnal visitations from the Princess. Meanwhile, Orpheus' wife enters into an affair with Heurtebise (Francois Perier). After seeking advice on her mixed-up love life, Eurydice is herself struck down and killed by the same cyclist who snuffed out Cegeste's life. It appears to Heurtebise that the ghostly Princess has claimed Eurydice so that she, the Princess, can be free to love Orpheus. Heurtebise persuades Orpheus to accompany him into the Underworld in hopes of returning Eurydice to life. By now, however, Orpheus cares little for his wife; he is completely under the Princess' spell. Offered her own liberation from the Underworld by the powers-that-be, the Princess dolefullly agrees to restore Eurydice to life, and to never have anything to do with Orpheus again. Orpheus has weathered much controversy to take its place among the director's most acclaimed works. Originally released at 112 minutes, the film was whittled down to 95 minutes for its American release.