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Orphic Trilogy - Criterion Collection
Orphic Trilogy - Criterion Collection
Actors: Jean Cocteau, Claudine Auger, Charles Aznavour, Lucia Bosé, Yul Brynner
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
UR     2000     3hr 45min

Decadent, subversive, and bristling with artistic invention, the myth-born cinema of Jean Cocteau disturbs as much as it charms. Cocteau was the most versatile of artists in prewar Paris. Poet, novelist, playwright, painte...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Jean Cocteau, Claudine Auger, Charles Aznavour, Lucia Bosé, Yul Brynner
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Black and White
DVD Release Date: 06/27/2000
Original Release Date: 11/29/1950
Theatrical Release Date: 11/29/1950
Release Year: 2000
Run Time: 3hr 45min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaDVD Credits: 3
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 20
Edition: Box set,Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Orphic, but not a Trilogy
Dave Clayton | San Diego, CA USA | 04/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Criterion notwithstanding, this collection of three movies directed by Jean Cocteau is no trilogy. Rather the three works represent three quite different views of the Poet-the prototypic artistic creator for Cocteau--at three different moments in his career. The first, Blood of a Poet (1930) released at the same time as L'Age d'Or of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali-both pictures were financed by the wealthy patron of the arts, the Vicomte de Noailles-is the most "Orphic" of three, and like L'Age d'Or very much in the vein of French experimental films of the 1920s, with an abundance of symbolism and rejection of conventional narrative syntax. Less radically innovative than L'Age d'Or, Blood of a Poet is like a brilliant book of sketches, some of which work, some of which don't.
Cocteau made no films for over a decade, and only returned to the cinema during the Occupation with The Eternal Return, for which he wrote the screenplay. Although directed by Jean Delannoy, the film was clearly Cocteau's own creation, and marked both the beginning of a period of fertile cinematic collaboration with Jean Marais and a new phase in Cocteau's contributions to film. The masterpiece of this period is, of course, Orpheus (1949). Cocteau had begun in Blood of a Poet by radically breaking with realism. Now he set about showing how the images of modern life could be invested with a mythic power of their own.
In The Eternal Return, Cocteau had put the story of Tristan and Yseult into a modern setting, but without the least hint of irony. In updating the myth of Orpheus to post-World War II Paris, however, he adopted a very different strategy. The Thracian singer becomes a rich and famous writer (Jean Marais) who supplies exactly what the public looks for in literature. At the beginning of the film, Orpheus boasts to an older retired writer, "The public loves me!" And the latter tartly retorts, "The public is alone." But as a result of the unforeseen adventure he lives through in the film, an adventure in which he confronts and falls in love with his own Death (Maria Casares), Orpheus momentarily becomes the Poet he never has been.
Cocteau had placed the myth of the sacrifice of the Poet at the center of Blood of a Poet, and he explicitly articulates it in Orpheus: "The death of a poet requires a sacrifice to make him immortal." However, the "real" Poet, from this point of view, is not Orpheus-who goes back to happily settle down in bourgeois bliss with his expectant wife-but Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe), who becomes the servant of Death, and unquestioningly transmits the messages from the underworld (read: the unconscious). The Poet has to sacrifice himself in order to be more than a writer-"A writer without being a writer," is how he defines the poetic vocation before the Judges of the Underworld-but Orpheus will never have the courage to make that choice by himself.
Not the least astounding thing about Orpheus is the assurance with which Cocteau handles the machinery of commercial film production. Orpheus is hardly a mainstream production by American standards, but it has no ragged edges, technically speaking. The film was strikingly photographed by Nicolas Hayer and it makes a highly adroit use of special effects shots, whose primitive magic Cocteau understood and employed quite effectively. The musical score is by Georges Auric, a member of Les Six who has to rank with Bernard Herrman as one of the major composers of film music in the history of motion pictures. Last but not least, Orpheus has a formidable cast, including-in addition to Jean Marais-François Perier as Heurtebise, Maria Dea as Eurydice, Juliette Greco as her friend Aglaonice, Roger Blin as the older poet, and the sublime Maria Casares as the most glamorous personification of Death ever to appear on the screen.
Viewers will likely have the most difficulty getting into the third movie, The Testament of Orpheus. Cocteau's adieu to the screen is a work filled with spontaneity and invention, so impulsively unstructured as to make Blood of a Poet look like Racinian tragedy. Cocteau plays a traveler lost in time who goes in search of Pallas Athene, but this is a mere pretext for stringing together a series of adventures, like the narrative premise of a picaresque novel. Testament of Orpheus was a movie ahead of its time when it came out 1959, and it remains so today. Possibly its release in DVD may serve to make it known to a wider audience.

Criterion has done itself proud with this set. Anyone inclined to balk might consider that three DVDs of this quality at the price are already a bargain. The picture and sound quality of all three movies, each of which has been digitally remastered, is superb. Blood of a Poet was especially impressive in this respect, and I felt as if I were seeing it for the first time. In addition, The Orphic Trilogy includes a wealth of supplementary material such as essays and pronouncements by Cocteau.

The set also contains two other films en marge of a non-fictional variety. One of these is Villa Santo Sospir, a 16mm picture about the home of Cocteau's neighbor on the Riviera, Mme. Alec Weisweiller, which he had extensively decorated. Mainly a record of art works, Villa Santo Sospir is his only extended work in color. The other, far more interesting, is a documentary about Cocteau's life entitled Autobiography of an Unknown by Edoardo Cozarinsky. Unfortunately, the picture quality is often dupey and unsatisfactory, but the film provides a number of invaluable interviews from the later phase of Cocteau's career.
Anyone who enjoys The Orphic Trilogy should definitely consider purchasing the Criterion DVD of Beauty and the Beast, and the videotapes of The Eternal Return, The Storm Within (Les Parents terribles), and The Strange Ones (Les Enfants terribles), all available from"
A treasure for the artist!
David Fierro | San Anselmo, CA United States | 05/03/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Orphic trilogy is a cause for celebration becuase it is truly a treat for the artist in us all. We get to see a filmmaker's perspective of film from three totally different angles, one as a young man, trying and inventing new ways to use the camera (THE BLOOD OF A POET) to the mainstream artist trying to tell a middleground art versus convention story (ORPHEUS) to an old man, giving his last thoughts on celluoid as poetry (THE TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS). Do not buy these DVD if you are not a fan of the surreal! Cocteau himself says these movies are dream worlds and he means it. If you have a hard time following imagery and symbols you will be easten alive by these movies. But if film is like fine wine to you, getting more complex with each sip, you are in for a treat. Criterion as always does a marvelous job from top to bottom from packaging to supplemental work. The essays included are extrememly interesting as are the two additional films provided."
A great trilogy. Criterion's first box set also
Ted | Pennsylvania, USA | 05/16/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is the first box set released by the Criterion Collection. "Brazil" was on three discs but was only one movie so I don't think it counts.In this 3 disc box set there are 3 feature films by Jean Cocteau.The Blood of a Poet (Le Sang d'un poète)
Orpheus (Orphée)
The Testament of Orpheus (Le Testament d'Orphée)Blood of a Poet is a surreal film which is about a painter who ends up having a set of lips growing on his hand.Orpheus is based on the famous myth depicted in then-modern times. It has some great scenes and was very popular.Testament of Orpheus is about a poet whotravels through time and visits a post apoctalyptic wasteland.The set has special features on each disc. There is one hour biography on Jean Cocteau, transcripts of lectures Cocteau gave before screenings of the films, behind the scenes photos of Blood of a Poet, bibliography and filmography of Cocteau, and the 36 minute film La Villa Santo-Sospir.The films also have some cool reverse-motion effects which show actions in reverse, some of the reverse scenes are of a man jumping into a lake, a flower being crumbled in someone's hand and a few others. This box set is a great release and is a MUST for Cocteau fans."
A superb centerpiece.
Miles D. Moore | Alexandria, VA USA | 07/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Jean Cocteau's "Orphee," along with his earlier "La Belle et la Bete," must be ranked among the greatest of French films. This highly personal version of the myth of Orpheus remains a testament both to the the power of poetic imagery on film and to Cocteau's genius as a creator of such imagery. Cocteau's Orphee (Jean Marais) is a brusque, egocentric, dissatisfied soul who, to paraphrase Keats, is more than half in love with Death. As portrayed by Maria Casares, Death is far from the easeful presence Keats envisioned, but imperious, severe, and tres, tres chaud. Setting his fantasy in then-contemporary France (1949, to be exact), Cocteau dresses his angels of Death in leather and puts them on motorcycles, the roar of their engines as inexorable as a buzzsaw, and sends Orphee cryptic messages from the underworld via a car radio. "Orphee" is an unforgettable story of obsession and renunciation, the characters constantly going forward and backward through mirrors in a miasma of love, pain, and time lost and regained. Just as Orphee and Death act out their torrid passion, Eurydice (Marie Dea) carries on a sadder, more delicate version of the same story with Death's servant Heurtebise (Francois Perier). Meanwhile, the drunken poet Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe) finds himself a nearly mute witness to the drama, severed for eternity from the passions swirling around him. This three-disc set is worth owning for "Orphee" alone; the other two films are interesting, but not extraordinary. "The Blood of a Poet" (1930) feels like warmed-over Bunuel these days, while "The Testament of Orpheus" (1959), Cocteau's valedictory address to the cinema, is an intermittently interesting but overly talky apologia for Cocteau's life and career. They are interesting mainly for the light they shed on "Orphee"; "The Blood of a Poet" contains many of the motifs found later in "Orphee," especially Cocteau's fascination with mirrors, while "The Testament of Orpheus" brings back the lead actors from "Orphee" to serve as Cocteau's guides and artistic judges. (Cocteau, always a bit of a name-dropper, also brings in his pals Pablo Picasso and Yul Brynner for cameos.) The judgment is unavoidable: "The Blood of a Poet" proved that Cocteau needed a story on which to hang his images, while "The Testament of Orpheus" proved that he told a story better with images than with words. Among the many excellent technical credits is that of Georges Auric, surely one of the greatest of all film composers, who wrote the superb music for all three films. The first disc also contains a fascinating and informative documentary about Cocteau, in which he reminisces about Picasso, Nijinsky, Debussy, Satie, Diaghilev, and all the other great artists he knew. It was Diaghilev who exhorted Cocteau, "Astonish me!" Cocteau proceeded to astonish him and everyone else for the next fifty years. (In watching "Orphee," it's also fun to play Cocteau's version of "La Ronde"; he cast both his former lover, Jean Marais, and his current one, Edouard Dermithe, while simultaneously Marais was having an affair with Marie Dea. Only Michael Powell--having his former mistress Deborah Kerr and his current mistress Kathleen Byron fight to the death at the edge of a cliff in "Black Narcissus"--was equally daring.)"