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Jean Marais - Orpheus

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Producer: Andre Paulve and Films du Palais-Royal
Cinematographer: Nicolas Hayer
Scenario: Jean Cocteau
Director: Jean Cocteau
Sound: J.Calvet
Music: Georges Auric

Cast: Jean Marais (Orpheus), Maria Casares (Princess), Marie Dea (Eurydice), Francois Peirer (Heurtebise), Juliette Greco (Aglaonice),Edouard Dermit (Cegeste)

Filmed: In the fall of 1949
Premiere: Cannes, March 1, 1950
Paris premiere: End of September, 1950
U.S. release: November 22, 1950
Distributor: Discina International
International Critics' Prize, Venice, 1950


Jean Cocteau Orpheus

In 1949 Cocteau, sixty years old but toujours vert, began to film the screen version of his 1926 play Orphée. Both Jean Marais and Edouard Dermit appeared in the movie. Marais as Orpheus (the older poet) and Dermit as Segistus (the younger poet). Maria Casares, one of Cocteau's favourite actresses, played the Princess (Death). Cocteau wrote to his English translator, Mary Hoeck, explaining that the moral of Orphee was the engagement of the poet with himself, not with causes or parties. Such intransigence, continued Cocteau, creates chaos in the world, and so in the film Death, although in love with Orpheus, sacrifices her own feelings and allows the poet to remain on earth.

Jean Marais & Maria Casares - Orpheus In one scene in the film, at the entrance to the Cafe des Poetes, Dermit/Cégeste comes in as Marais/Orphée goes out. They pause, and Cégeste (Segistus) mutters scornfully at Orphée. That instant on screen is a Coctelian reference to a state of tension that prevailed in the poet's household at the time.

But it also portrays his awareness that by 1949 he was being rejected by the young public, the new generation of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. This anxiety is reconfirmed in the film when two of the Bacchantes attack Orpheus. For the Bacchantes' role, Cocteau chose Juliette Greco and Anne-Marie Cazalis from Le Tabou, one of Saint-Germain-des-Prés most famous caves .

The film was shot largely in the ruined buildings of Saint-Cyr, the French West Point, which had been destroyed by the Germans during World War 11 in the course of aerial bombardment.

Cocteau's innovations abound: Death rides in a magnificent Rolls-Royce (a visual echo of Francine Weisweiller's Bentley) escorted by a sinister motorcycle police; Orpheus is mesmerized by a car radio that repeats coded messages; and one of the trick mirrors used in the film was actually a thousand-pound tub of mercury.

In September of 1950 Orphée won the Prix International de la Critique at the Venice Film Festival, and in 1951 it took First Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

A footnote to the creator's satisfaction was a review by Claude Mauriac finally acclaiming Cocteau as a great filmmaker and writer.

Jean Marais Jean Cocteau Orphee

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