Notes on film: Orpheus

10 October 2008

“Look at yourself in a mirror all your life and you’ll see death at work like bees in a hive of glass.”

Orpheus (Orphée) is one of the most celebrated and influential examples of avant-garde cinema, a film that defies the conventions of classical Hollywood films and became considered a work of art that transcends the traditional confines of the cinema. It is the most accomplished film by the French artist Jean Cocteau who was also prolific and admired for his work as a poet, novelist and illustrator. It was one of three films where Cocteau used the classical myth of Orpheus’s journey to the Underworld in order to express his own preoccupations with life, death, the importance of art, and the power of poetry. Orpheus is also admired for its low-key technical achievements where effects that were even considered to be simple by the standards of the time, were skilfully utilised to create a magical and dream like world that is both familiar and unfamiliar to the audience. Cocteau did not consider himself part of the Surrealist movement, as he did not share their political motivations, but his films do loosely fit within the Surrealist tradition of championing dream-logic over reality.

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