Jean Cocteau

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6.5 Blood of a Poet (1930)
7.0 The Beauty and the Beast (1946)
7.4 Orpheus (1950)
7.3 The Testament of Orpheus (1959)

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Lo scrittore Jean Cocteau, uno dei protagonisti dei salotti parigini del primo Novecento, approdò al surrealismo alla fine degli anni Venti. I suoi molteplici interessi, dalla musica al teatro, lo portarono anche al cinema.

The 52-minute Le Sang d'un Poète/ Blood of a Poet (1930) is a crucible of avantgarde techniques and visual effects, a journey to the interior space of the poet.

While cannons are thundering outside, a painter is sketching faces on a canvas. Someone knocks at the door and suddenly the mouth of the face that he drew starts moving. He tries in vain to cancel the portrait. He opens the door but his friend runs away terrified. He washes his hand in a basin and the mouth appears on the palm of his hand. The mouth disappears when he exposes the hand to sunlight, but otherwise it can't be erased. Eventually he falls asleep. The following morning a no less mysterious statue of a woman appears in his room. He places his palm with the mysterious mouth over the mouth of the statue. The statue comes alive and the mouth disappears from his hand. He realizes that he is trapped in a room with no exit. There is a mirror and he asks the statue to open it. The statue challenges him to go through the mirror. He stands on a chair and, after some hesitation, he jumps into it. He finds himself into a dark world and then into a hotel. He peeks through the keyholes of some of the rooms and sees the execution of a Mexican (that is replied backwards and then foward again), a shadow show, a mother abusing her little daughter who escapes by climbing a wall to the ceiling like a lizard, a hermaphrodite lying on a couch under a rotating disc (we first see his male body appear, frame after frame, and then her female body appear, frame after frame), While he's peeking in the keyhole a face appears in the air and an arm hands him a gun with instructions on how to commit suicide. He follows the instructions and shoots himself, but, after bleeding to death, he revives and struggles to walk away. He returns through the mirror into the room of the statue. Angry, he grabs a sledgehammer and destroys the statue. Some teenage rascals battle with snow balls while two of them smoke cigarettes. They have built a statue of snow. One child is injured. The fight gets more vicious. A child is tortured and strangled. A little tyrant grabs a snowball and it throws it so violently that it kills one of the kids. They run away abandoning his body, while blood flows out of his mouth. A card player sets his table on top of the body, and, ignoring the dead boy, plays his card game. Rich characters walk to the balconies that are theater booths to watch the scene. The card player plays with a beautiful woman while a gentleman watches. The woman is about to win the game unless the card player can exhibit an ace of hearts. The card player pulls out an ace of hearts from the dead boy's breast. A guardian angel (a naked black boy) descends the stairs of a house to rescue the dead boy and removes the ace of hearts from the card player's hand . The rich people are still watching the scene from their theater booths. The card player pulls out a gun and shoots himself in front of the woman. The rich spectators clap. The woman transforms into the statue and slowly walks away barefoot. She enters a room like a ghost. She advances and joins a horribly skinned ox. Then she walks away holding a globe and a lyre, and becomes a lifeless statue again. The last scene is of a factory smokestack being demolished.

Sedici anni dopo La Belle et la Bète/ The Beauty and the Beast (1946), from the fairy tale by Leprince de Beaumont, ripercorre con morbosità da esteta la fiaba, in un delirio di fotografia, scenografie e costumi.

Ludovic and his handsome friend Avenant (Jean Marais) are shooting arrows for fun when one accidentally flies into the window of the room where Ludovic's three sisters are working. Tellingly, the two talkative ones, Felicie and Adelaide, yell at Ludovic because he almost killed the dog, not the younger sister Belle. Later the two petulant sisters leave the house, while Ludovic makes fun of their pomp. Avenant consoles Belle, telling her that she shouldn't be working while her sisters are having fun. But the humble Belle knows that their father is ruined and that someone has to work. Belle thinks that her sisters are too beautiful to do hard work, but Avenant tells her that she is the most beautiful one. Avenant asks her to marry him, but she replies that her father needs her. He tries to kiss her, but she resists. Her broher Ludovic comes to her rescue, insulting Avenant, who hits him. Their father walks in with good news: one of his ships has arrived. This could mean the restoration of their wealth. He has to ride to town immediately. He asks what his daughters would like from town. The two wicked ones ask for exotic and expensive presents. Belle simply asks for a rose. In the meantime Ludovic is in trouble: he needs to repay some money or he will go to jail. Avenant advises him to borrow the money from a moneylender, even if this means that his father may be asked to pay the debt. Thinking that the ship is bringing good money, Ludovic signs the paper. However, the truth is that the creditors have already taken everything from the ship. The father is riding his horse back home through a forest, empty handed. Due to a thick fog, he gets lost in the forest. Suddenly a mysterious mansion appears. He walks into the front door to find himself into a dark corridor lit by candlesticks whose flames come alive as he walks by and are held and turned by human arms with no body. The decorative heads of the fireplace have eyes that move. The table has hands that pour drinks. The merchant is hungry and eats the food on the table. Then he falls asleep. When he wakes up, he walks outside and looks for his horse. Seeing a rose, he picks it for Belle. Suddenly a monster appears, half-human and half-beast: he is La Bete (Jean Marais again), the owner of the enchanted mansion. He tells the merchant that he can take anything from his mansion but not the roses. For the rose he must die, or one of his daughters has to die on his behalf. He can go home but has only three days to make the decision. A white horse takes him home, where he tells his children his dreadful story. Belle feels guilty that she asked for the rose and volunteers to die. The wicked sisters agree and get angry when Avenant proposes to kill the beast. The old man tells them that he is ready to die. The sisters hope that, whatever happens, they will be able to sell the furniture and marry princes. At night Belle leaves the home and rides the white horse to the mansion. She walks through the same enchanted corridor and another corridor of dancing white sheets. A door tells her to enter. A mirror shows her the agonizing father. She runs outside and faints when she sees La Bete. The monster carries her inside again, and, instead of killing her, treats her like a queen. He tells her that he will ask her the same question every day: to marry him. She says no and he leaves her alone. She hides and sees him suffer. However, he keeps behaving like a gentleman to her. SHe tells him that someone else already proposed and that she loves him (Avenant). La Bete is desperate. He realizes that no matter what he does, no matter how kind he is, he will always be too ugly for her. She is suffering because she can't see her father. (Her father is, in fact, very ill, and Ludovic's creditor is taking away all the furniture of the house). The monster can't stand it so he lets Belle go away but asks her to promise that she will return in a week. If she doesn't return, he will die. He even gives her a golden key that will make her the heiress of everything he owns after he dies. She appears to her father dressed like a queen. Her sisters, now reduced to cooking, are jealous and furious. Ludovic and Avenant are ecstatic at Belle's stories of the enchanted mansion and the monster's treasure. Avenant talks Ludovic into killing and robbing the monster. The sisters are immediately excited at Avenant's plan and convince the naive Belle that they love her so much and don't want her to leave (while still treating her like a servant). Belle is torn between the love for her family and loyalty to the kind monster who trusted her with his most powerful secrets. The sisters steal the gold key and give it to Avenant. The monster has sent the white horse to retrieve Belle. Instead, Avenant and Ludovic jump on it to be taken to the enchanted mansion.
When Belle realizes that she has been robbed of the key, she runs to the mansion, but too late: the monster dies in her arms. He is resurrected, though, but her love. He is now a handsome prince, Prince Ardent (Jean Marais again). In the meantime Ludovic and Avenant have entered the treasure hall, but the statues that protect the treasure have come to life and killed Avenant, who turns into the monster himself as he falls to the ground. Prince Ardent has inherited the body of Avenant, and Belle is initially confused, as if she missed the ugly body of the monster. But eventually they hug and they fly away towards his magical kingdom where she will be queen.
At a first level the film is merely a moral allegory. At a second level the surreal imagery creates another allegory of a different kind. There is an existential allegory of the old man getting lost in the forest and being asked to die, and there is the morbid allegory of Avenant who is trying to seduce the innocent Belle and eventually to rob her not only of her innocence but also of her loyalty (in other words, of her entire personality, as if interested only in her body).

L'Aigle a deux Tetes/ The Eagle with Two Heads (1948) is an adaptation of his own play.

Les Parents Terribles/ The Terrible Parents/ The Storm Within (1948) is an adaptation of his 1938 play.

Orphée (1950), loosely based on his own 1925 play, sul mito di Orfeo, è l'ultima esibizione autobiografica e tardosurrealista di Cocteau; la storia è raccontata al rallentatore per negativi, con continui rimandi alla morte e al soprannaturale. L'eccesso calligrafico di simboli personali è un estremo omaggio alla confusione surrealista.

Orpheus, a famous poet (played by Edouard Dermit, Cocteau's adopted son) who has become a household name, is hated at the Cafe des Poetes. Jacques, a teenage poet who shows up drunk in the company of the princess whose magazine made him famous, is loved, instead. Jacques causes a brawl that draws the police. Jacques fights with the police who are trying to arrest him and is run over by two motorcyclists who don't stop. The princess coldly asks the police to load the body on her car and commands Orpheus to get on the car as a witness. The radio is broadcasting cryptic messages. Orpheus realizes that the boy is dead, but the princess, in a cynical tone, asks him to shut up and mind his business. She smiles and greets the two motorcyclists that they meet along the road and that escort the car to the princess' mansion. Orpheus demands an explanation but the princess refuses. The radio is still broadcasting weird messages, this time about the mirror (that in fact cracks). Orpheus is de facto locked in a room, a prisoner, although well fed. In another room the princess begins a strange ritual: she calls back to life Jacques with just a few words. He is now a zombie sworn to serve her. All four of them (princess, zombie and motorcyclists) walk through a mirror and disappear. Orpheus sees them and tries to follow them but instead falls asleep. He wakes up in the morning in the middle of a bright landscape. A chaffeur is waiting for him. At home his wife Eurydice is worried. The chief inspector and her friend Aglaonice doesn't know how to console her, but suspects a love affair between Orpheus and the pricess. Anyway, the chaffeur takes Orpheus home. He is upset to find Aglaonice, a woman he despises and who swears some day he will be sorry. Orpheus is hysterical. His wife tries to tell him that she is pregnant but he hastily leaves the room. The chaffeur, instructed by Orpheus, tells the jealous Eurydice that he did not sleep in the pricess' house.
Orpheus becomes obsessed with the mysterious radio broadcasts and spends entire days inside the car of the princess, the only one where those broadcasts can be heard. The chaffeur Heurtebise lives with them, becoming Eurydice's confidant. He is convinced that the radio broadcasts contain a message for him. Orpheus' death visits him every night but he doesn't know it. The inspector wants to see him becaues some of Jacques' poems have been published under Orpheus' name. Orpheus never reaches the office of the inspector because he chases the princess without ever reaching her.
Eurydice is going mad that Orpheus spends all his time in the car listening to the radio. She decides to take the bicycle and pay a visit to Aglaonice. The moment she leaves the house the two motorcyclists run her over. The chaffeur carries her upstairs. The closet opens and out of the mirror come the princess and Jacques. The princess tells Jacques to broadcast a message. He sets up the transmitter and starts talking, while Orpheus is listening in the garage. She wears gloves and prepares for another operation on a dead body. The chaffeur confesses that he is in love with the dead woman and confronts the cruel princess, who has unjustly taken the Eurydice's life. The chaffeur disappears, but not before telling her that she must be in love with Orpheus.
Heurtebise appears to Orpheus and begs him to help his wife who is in great danger. But Orpheus is too busy writing down the radio messages. The princess can quietly turn his wife into a zombie and they all leave through the mirror. When Orpheus finally understands what happened, he despairs. Heurtebise tells him that he can still rescue his wife from the otherworld and leads him through the mirror into a dilapidated building where a committee of people in a suit and tie are interrogating Jacques. After Jacques they call the princess, who is Death and who is accused of having taken a life (Orpheus' wife) only for selfish reasons and not because it was the woman's time. Heurtebise is called as a witness. Then Orpheus is called as a witness. Under pressure she admits that she loves Orpheus. Heurtebise, in turn, confesses that he loves Eurydice. The judges decide to send them all free. Eurydice can return to the world of the living, upon the condition that Orpheus never looks at her. It now seems that Orpheus has feelings fir his own Death, the princess.
Back home, under the supervision of the faithful chaffeur Heurtebise, the couple tries to get used to living without Orpheus ever looking at Eurydice. Orpheus is still obsessed with coded radio broadcasts and still spends most of his time inside the car in the garage. One day Eurydice visits him there and he sees her in the rear mirror. That's enough to cause the woman to disappear. Outside fans of Jacques is yelling at him. They are want to know what happened to Jacques. They force their way in. Orpheus brandishes a pistol. They fight and a bullet hits Orpheus and kills him. Before the police arrive, Heurtebise loads the corpse in the car and departs, escorted by the princess' motorcyclists. The faithful chaffeur leads Orpheus into the Underworld until he meets his Death, the princess, again. He is now in love with her. She wants to help him and begs him to trust her. She orders Heurtebise to travel back in time. And Orpheus finds himself back in his own home, next to his wife who is pregnant. Life has been restored to both.
In the underworld the motorcyclists are coming to pick up Death for her betrayal.

Le Testament d'Orphee (1959) is a free-form surrealist film in the vein of his first one, but a lot more verbose and ironic (even satirical at times against aspects of contemporary culture that Cocteau despised). The film is a mixture of aesthetic manifesto, free association, automatic writing, self-therapy and self-eulogy. Cocteau plays himself, lost in the labyrinth of all his obsessions. The fill overflows with mythological metaphors. There are elements of both Kafka (the tribunal, the waiting room) and Proust (although his memories are transfigured).

The film begins with a declaration by Cocteau himself that it is a poetic autobiography. A child is studying in a dilapidated warehouse when a poet (the person narrating the story, i.e. Cocteau himself played by Cocteau himself but dressed in 18th century clothes) walks in and demands to talk to his father, who is dead. Disappointed, the man disappears. The child is shocked. The man reappears in the street. He approaches a woman is entertaining her baby on a bench. She is startled and drops her baby to the ground. She grabs the baby and pushes the stroller away passing in front of the lights used by the filming crew. The man then approaches a nurse who is pushing the wheelchair of an old sick man who is suffering from a head injury he receives when he was a baby when her mother dropped him to the floor. The sick old man drops a box that the poet picks up as a talisman. We then see the sick old man when he was younger, a scientist, and already victim of moments of exhaustion. The poet appears to him and the exhausted scientist recognizes him as someone who startled him when he was 13 years old. The poet asserts that he traveled in time and thought this was 2209 instead of 1959. The poet reveals that he has visited the scientist at several stages of his life and shows him the box, which the scientist recognizes as his lost invention: bullets that move faster than light. The scientist asks the poet whether he's going to die there and the poet replies that he has a poor memory for the future. The poet asks the scientist to try the bullets on him and the scientist gladly shoots him. The poet dies and is resurrected in modern clothes. The poet walks away and meets a black horse-headed character who silently removes the mask to reveal that he is a young man before walking in the opposite direction. The poet follows to a ruined building where a group of gypsies have camped. A gypsy woman saves the photo of a man from the fire but then tears it up. The poet recognizes the man in the photo: it is Cegeste from hiw own film Orpheus. Terrified, and feeling that the man-horse led him into a trap, the poet walks away and throws the pieces of the photograph in the sea. Cegeste springs out of the waters, resurrected. Cegeste reminds the poet that he is an expert in phoenixology, the art of repeatedly dying to be reborn. We then see a little schoolgirl being asked to recognize Jean's Cocteau tapestry "Judith & Holofernes" (1948) in front of an audience. We also see one of the mosaics that Cocteau designed in his life. The poet unveils a sculpture that reminds him of Orpheus and then begins to paint a flower on a black canvas, but what he is sketching on the canvas is a selfportrait, and Cegeste (wearing a skeleton mask on his face) comments that it's inevitable that a poet always paints himself, no matter what he is trying to paint. The poet sits at a table and creates a flower. Cegeste orders him to follow him to the goddess Heurtebise (the protagonist of Cocteau's poem "L'Ange Heurtebise"). The poet refuses. The film rewinds to the point where Cegeste ordered him and this time the poet obeys. The poet is taken to a room where two officers, a man and a woman, Heurtebise (played by the same actress who played the princess in Orpheus) are sitting at a small desk. They are a Kafka-esque tribunal: they accuse him of innocence of all crimes and of trying to trespass into another world. The poet pleads guilty and hands Heurtebise the flower he made. They discuss his films and his poetry. Then they turn to Cegeste, who claims to be the painter Edouard, Cocteau's adopted son (true: Edouard Dermit, who played the poet Orpheus, was Cocteau's adopted son). The officer who sits next to Heurtebise tells the poet: "Where we are, there is no here". The tribunal summons the scientist, who appears in his pajama, disoriented because he was sleeping. Heurtebise tells him that this is not a dream, just in another kind of time. The scientist is happy to see the poet again. The scientist explains to the two officers of the tribunal that he has carried out research on resurrection and the appearance of the time traveler (the poet) greatly excited him. They release him and he returns to sleep (i.e. disappears). The tribunal sentences the poet to life (the opposite of a death sentence). Heurtebise disappears. The film moves to the gardens of a mansion where a countess (dressed in 19th century fashion) is reading a book and asking her butler Gustave who is the murderer because she doesn't want to finish the book, adding that the book won't be published until 70 years later, and two naked men dance around pretending to be a horse. Cegeste and Cocteau take a row boat to the fishing village where Cocteau grew up and pass by the chapelle that he chose as his own burial place (the Chapelle Saint-Blaise des Simples at Milly-la-Foret). They are lured by a female voice to a building where they see two young intellectuals in love. Two children ask for their autograph and then deposit the autographs inside a three-headed statue that, Cegeste explains, is an instant-celebrity machine that digests the autographs and spits out novel and poems. Cegeste leaves him and Cocteau finds himself in the colossal antechamber of a mysterious political office. The secretary tells him to wait and keeps promising that all sorts of important people will see him in a few minutes, but Cocteau waits in vain. Eventually the secretary disappears and Cocteau realizes that he is alone in an abandoned building. The flower appears in his hand and he finds himself in a room where a female knight is surrounded by two men-horses on a pedestal. Cocteau tries to leave but the knight throws a spear that kills him. A number of famous real-world watch the scene, including Pablo Picasso. Cocteau's body is displayed to a small crowd mainly of gypsies. Smoke comes out of his mouth and he is resurrected. He walks away while a giant swan with a female face sails in the river. Cocteau meets a man who has been blinded accompanied by a young woman and doesn't recognize that they are Oedipus and the Sphinx. He hear the sound of motorcycles and imagines that these are the motorcyclists coming to kill him the way Cegeste died in Orpheus, but instead they just two ordinary cops who think that he looks suspicious. Cegeste reappears and helps Cocteau disappear.

Cocteau died in 1963.

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