Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 268: Orpheus (1949) - Rank 4.5/5


When it comes to films that can only be described as "dreamlike," Jean Cocteau's "Orpheus" is as hypnotic as "Eraserhead" is nightmarish. The story is entrancing and drenched with moments that are both eerie and beautiful. Even today, such a film would be considered avant-garde, so I can't help but wonder how mind-blowing it was sixty years ago.

While slightly more linear than other surrealist films, "Orpheus" still possesses enough of a disjointed plot to make a synopsis difficult. The tale is centralized around Orphée, a poet who witnesses a tragic accident and soon finds himself the target of affection for one of Death's close associates, Princess (Maria Casares). Princess takes Orphée's wife to the Underworld and Orphée retrieves her only to learn that he may never again look upon the face of his beloved for fear of losing her to Death forever.

Cocteau uses the Greek tragedy of Orpheus as his inspiration, but brings the tale into the modern day, using bikers as Death's reapers and the radio as a hellmouth for non-sequitur poetry. In addition, characters interacting with other characters on rear-projection screens, scenes filmed backwards and presented in reverse and other trick shots boggle the mind far more than current digital trickery. The result is a gorgeous slice of fantasmagoria that clearly laid the groundwork for the countless other surrealist filmmakers, such as David Lynch or Michel Gondry, that followed.

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