Orpheus (film)

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This article is about a film. For the Gluck opera Orphée, see Orfeo ed Euridice.
Directed by Jean Cocteau
Produced by André Paulvé
Written by Jean Cocteau
Starring Jean Marais
François Périer
María Casares
Marie Déa
Music by Georges Auric
Cinematography Nicolas Hayer
Edited by Jacqueline Sadoul
Distributed by DisCina
Release dates
  • 29 September 1950 (1950-09-29) (France)

  • November 29, 1950 (1950-11-29) (US)
Running time
95 min
Country France
Language French

Orpheus (French: Orphée; also the title used in the UK) is a 1950 French film directed by Jean Cocteau and starring Jean Marais. This film is the central part of Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy, which consists of The Blood of a Poet (1930), Orpheus (1950) and Testament of Orpheus (1960). The trilogy has been released as a DVD boxed set by The Criterion Collection.


Set in contemporary Paris, the movie is a variation of the classic Greek myth of Orpheus. The movie begins with Orpheus (Marais), a famous poet, visiting the Café des Poètes. At the same time, a Princess (Casares) and a young drunk poet Cègeste (Edouard Dermithe) she supports arrives. Cègeste starts a brawl. When the police arrive and attempt to take Cègeste into custody, he breaks free and flees only to be run down by two motorcycle riders. The Princess has the police place Cègeste into her car in order to "transport him to the hospital." She also orders Orpheus into the car in order to act as a witness. Once in the car, Orpheus discovers Cègeste is dead and that the Princess is not going to the hospital. Instead, they drive to a chateau (the landscape through the car windows is presented in negative) accompanied by the two motorcycle riders as abstract poetry plays on the radio. This takes the form of seemingly meaningless messages, like those broadcast to the French Resistance from London during the Occupation.

At the ruined chateau, the Princess, Cègeste and the two motorcycle riders disappear into a mirror leaving Orpheus alone. He wakes alone in a desolate landscape and stumbles on the Princess' chauffeur, Heurtebise (Périer), who has been waiting for Orpheus to arrive. Heurtebise drives Orpheus home where Orpheus' pregnant wife, Eurydice (Marie Déa), a police inspector and Eurydice's friend discuss Orpheus' mysterious disappearance. When he arrives home, Orpheus refuses to explain the details of the previous night despite the question which linger over the fate of the popular young poet Cègeste whose body can not be found. Orpheus also invites Heurtebise to live in Orpheus' house and store the limousine in Orpheus' garage until the princess should return.

Over time Heurtebise falls in love with Eurydice, Orpheus become obsessed with listening to the abstract poetry which only comes through the limousine's radio and it is revealed that the princess is actually Death. When Eurydice is killed by Death's motorcycle henchmen, Heurtebise proposes to lead Orpheus into the Underworld in order to reclaim her. At this point, Orpheus reveals he may have fallen in love with Death who has visited him in his dreams. This leads to Heurtebise asking Orpheus which woman he will betray, Death or Eurydice? When Orpheus arrives in the Underworld, he finds himself before a tribunal which is interrogating all parties involved in the death of Eurydice. The tribunal proposes that Death has illegally claimed Eurydice and they return Eurydice to life. However, Orpheus may not look upon her for the rest of his life at the pain of losing her again. Orpheus agrees and returns home with Eurydice and Heurtebise who has been assigned by the tribunal to assist the couple in adapting to their new, restrictive, life together.

In the concluding act, Eurydice visits the garage where Orpheus has continued to listen to the limousine's radio in search of the unknown poetry. She sits in the backseat. When Orpheus glances at her in the mirror, Eurydice disappears. At the same time, the crowd from the Café des Poètes arrives in order to extract vengeance from Orpheus for what they suppose to be his part in the murder of the young poet Cègeste. Orpheus confronts them, armed with a pistol given to him by Heurtebise, but is disarmed and shot. Orpheus dies and finds himself in the underworld. This time, he declares his love to Death who has decided to herself die in order that he might become an "immortal poet." The tribunal this time sends Orpheus and Eurydice back to the living world with no memories of the previous events. At the same time, Death and Heurtebise walk through a ruined building towards their unknown, but horrible fate.

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