Testament of Orpheus (1960) Poster

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Cocteau's transcendent sense of wonder shines brightly.
Alph-225 February 1999
Jean Cocteau's final filmic flight of fantasy is very special indeed.

Adopting the guise of a poet 'unstuck in time', Cocteau ranges over his life in the world of poetry. It's a phantasmorgorical whirl of imagery, with plenty of humour, pathos and an enormous, transcendent sense of wonder. There's also a trial sequence where the characters from his earlier success 'Orphee' try him for bringing them into existence !

Some of Cocteau famous friends feature in brief cameos. Look out for Picasso and Bardot.

You don't have to be a Cocteau fan to enjoy this movie. All you need is an interest in the nature of creativity and an enjoyment of poetry, symbolic art, and the wonderfully cinematic music of Georges Auric, who scored all Cocteau's major films.
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Symbolic surrealism
Red-Barracuda7 April 2012
I haven't seen any other features from Jean Cocteau, so many of the subtleties and references were lost on me. As such I didn't entirely understand all that occurred. It seems to be the final part in a loose trilogy of films based around the myth of Orpheus. In it, Cocteau himself plays a time-travelling poet, basically himself, who reflects on his life's works. He wanders a fantastical land and encounters various characters from his works of fiction. It's not a plot-driven film at all. It is more of a personal voyage of the director's. It was the last film he made and is clearly intended as a swansong, and a summary of his work.

The film often works best when it is at its most surreal. Many of the effects are extremely simple, yet beautifully executed. For instance the part where Cocteau reconstructs the flower bit by bit is very nice; likewise when Orpheus leaps out of the sea. Towards the end there is even a very striking invasion of the colour red, that can't help but be very memorable imagery. There are moments of the bizarre sprinkled throughout the picture. Like Cocteau himself says it is all cinematic poetry. Most of it was over my head I have to say but it was an interesting watch all the same.
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Jean Cocteau brilliantly evokes memories of his past triumphs!
Ziggy544615 September 2007
French national treasure Jean Cocteau's last film is as personal and private as it's title suggest. Le Testament d'Orphee is a fond farewell to cinema with it's free-flowing, spirited collection of images and scenes that includes characters from Cocteau's past films and personal friends. One would hardly imagine a cinematic poet like Jean Cocteau would be so crass as to make something like a mere sequel to his acclaimed Orpheus/Orphee (1950). And instead what Cocteau does is to give us perhaps cinema's first meta-film. The film itself is an autobiographical fantasia of his whole life. Playing various versions of himself, Cocteau glides through the film as a time traveler in search of his place in the universe. He called it an active poem.

The film was shot on location at Les Baux in the South of France, a landscape whose rough limestone canyons appealed to Cocteau even more than Greece. Francine Weinweller and the main crew put up at that gourmet's mecca, the Hostellerie de la Baumaniere. Francine had a costume part in the film as La Dame qui s'est trompe d'epoque. All the icons out of Cocteau's past were woven into the visual testament - mirrors, horses, flowers, tapestries, and many of his friends - Dermit, Marais, Yul Brynner, Picasso and his wife, among others, appeared.

Unfortunately for Cocteau, public and critics, weaned on the literature of commitment popularized by Sartre and Camus, turned their backs on Le Testament d'Orphee, finding it a self-serving celluloid relic, oddly out of step with the times. One voice, however, and an important one, praised the film. Young Francois Truffaut, winner of a large prize for his film Les Quatre Cents Coups, had turned the money over to Cocteau to help finance Le Testament. Truffaut liked the finished product, which he considered a remake, thirty years later, of Le Sang d'un Poete. Truffaut was not alone in seeing Cocteau, judged by his previous films, as one of the main precursors of New Wave filmmakers.

Le Testament d'Orphee is a misunderstood masterpiece. Brilliant!!!!
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A Unique Contribution to Film
mphilipm24 December 2008
While I had surely seen the second film in Cocteau's Orpheus trilogy if not the first as well, I suspect I was in no position to appreciate any of what Cocteau accomplished. Now I'm about the same age he was when he did the Testament. I remember the time period for the second and third pictures, having grown up in it. But how all three of these films really transcend time as Cocteau is trying to show you works of art should! I had to rely on the subtitles for the sense of the lines but it was no matter. I don't remember anything else like these films. They are political to the extent they lobby for the poet's point of view. And in spite of the black and white and old prints their effect is most striking. Orpheus Descending and Testament sometimes look like the inspiration for Rebel Without a Cause. And Testament has some pithy comments on modern technology and the short comings of air travel that seem funnier and more relevant today. And toward the end of Testament, having the red blood and the red hibiscus in this black and white movie--how many times has that been imitated by computer technology? But it is what the poet saw then, not what technology makes commonplace and commercial today.

On the discs for Blood of the Poet and Testament are two separate bonus features, documentaries of Cocteau in fading Technicolor--but oh how interesting they are as well. At some point Cocteau says it was Picasso who taught them all to see. But what a treasure trove of talent Paris produced in the first half of the twentieth century. I hope this kind of sharing of artistic discovery can take place on the internet. Maybe it is already happening and I just don't know it. But I do know people who care for serious--but not heavy and sometimes witty--artistic expression, let alone movies, should see all three of these movies and the docs which accompany them.
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the summit of surreal
luminous_luciano11 February 2004
While clearly not the first in its eclectic genre, this classic is definitely a great round-up of all that is surreal - all that the ''mechanics'' of both surrealism as those of dream can be deemed to be all about... Said mechanics fascinated Cocteau, to the point that he had to make this, his final film, a very original ''sequel'' of sorts to his classic ORPHÉE. If only all sequels since had been so original!

The cameos are indeed plentiful as also unexpected; many great stars of 1959 show up, from all fields as all continents! In this, the movie has a time capsule quality that only adds to its surrealness...

Most amazing though is the cameo that is not and could have been; Chaplin, who admired Cocteau -and it was mutual- through the language barrier and everything else that separated them... They had met on a cruise and greeted each other as brothers, though unable to exchange a single word almost... Surely he would have accepted to don the clothes of the Tramp one more time for this unique film... What a surreal addition to an already singular film it would have been! Although, on that cruise, through interpreters, Chaplin had confided that he was sad that he had become rich while playing a poor man... Cocteau admired him all the more for that...

Throughout "Le Testament d'Orphée", the film-goer has the impression of walking through someone else's dream - the director's dream. It is the goal of every film director to have his or her audience view things as if through the director's own eyes - well, I don't think anyone has ever succeeded quite like Cocteau did in this one, his cinematographic swan song as it was as well...

Le Testament d'Orphée is thus highly recommended for so many reasons; Bergman fans as well as those left unimpressed somehow by "Un Chien Andalou", because it was too short; those few will undoubtedly appreciate the long treatment given to this by the master, Jean Cocteau...!
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This movie shows what a movie can be and should be.
MukilLi10 August 2004
Although the elements involved in the last part of the trilogy (of course it's a trilogy!) are same, the movie is brilliant in the way it deal and approaches with a poet's final years. I loved the self-reference to the earlier versions and to Jean cocteau himself. The film touches A film inside a film, a stage inside a stage, a life inside a life, a body inside a body and ofcourse a world inside a world. This is a "timeless" classic. No pun intended. This just my first viewing, I intend to see it again and again. One interesting thing (a speculation) is the BULLET from the future world. I wonder whether James cameroon got inspired from this idea to come up with "The Terminator".

Personally, I was always interested by the idea of NO TIME. This movie touches the possible cyclic nature of the time and sometime it even goes even further suggesting that -- ALL TIMES reside within ONE or NONE -- Well we're not supposed to understand it :) I loved the dig at intellectuals.

I would recommend this movie to all surrealist and anybody who has the eternal question -- WHY?! This movie is not an answer nor it asks question. Just OBEY the natural laws and see the movie :)

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Film Poetry.
entreacto9 August 2001
Cocteau, as an authentic reinassance man, shown the world how poetry could be inside everything. In this film, a real testament Cocteau delivers us his whole original world, that one that he constructed from life experiences. His unique craft never needed big budgets, Cocteau creates the magic taking a flower and primary cinema f/x. Thats all, what you see on the screen is just poetry.
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depot-51 March 2010
This kind of movie is very difficult to rate. It can't compete with any IMDb's top 250 movies. No Godfather, no Dark Vador, no Indiana Jones. Not a feelgood movie, not a buddy movie... not any f... blockbuster movie.

Well. Let's face it : not anybody's movie. It's just a f... masterpiece about Poetry. That's why it's not ranked, but still pretty well rated for such an old movie. Films like this don't exist anymore. Maybe poets like this don't exist anymore. Maybe Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast is easier, and a better choice to start with Cocteau's Film works, but I think this one is mesmerizing. Also, Cocteau's "Le Sang d'un Poete" from 1930 is maybe a great movie for surrealist films fans. But Le Testament dOrphee is Cocteau's last effort and for me it sums up and benefits all. A testament and a masterpiece.
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Better than it first seems
richard-17878 May 2008
When this movie starts out, you will find yourself - if you are old enough - feeling that you have somehow been transported back in time to the 1950s and some very serious coffee house (NOT Starbucks) where, on Friday nights, they showed "experimental" films (not movies, of course, but films). The surrealist tricks that had been innovative 30 years before in "The Blood of the Poet" are still there, with the people and objects that suddenly disappear or appear and the surreal movement. There is still the clearly enunciated and theatrical speech. By the 1960s, this could be seen as kitsch.

But there is still, fairly often, a certain imaginative touch that comes off as real poetry. Not as much as in "Beauty and the Beast", certainly, to which this is much inferior. But enough to justify giving it a try.

And then there is the cameo appearance by Yul Brenner, who actually speaks very good French. Brenner was a big star at the time; how Cocteau convinced him to appear in this I will never know.
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Cosmoeticadotcom18 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The third film in the so-called Orphic Trilogy of Jean Cocteau, Testament Of Orpheus (Le Testament D'Orphée, Ou Ne Me Demandez Pas Pourquoi!), is also the third film in The Criterion Collection release boxed set, and while it's the best of the trio it's nowhere near a good film. It does have perhaps the best scoring, and a dozen or so moments in its eighty minutes that have some spark of creativity, but Cocteau is so narcissistic and the film so self-indulgent and replete with outdated special effects, such as Cocteau running film in reverse on numerous occasions, that one feels almost embarrassed for him. Also, the previous two entries in the trilogy set the bar so low that Cocteau did not really have to do much to improve upon their failures, and he didn't do much.

Despite his claims to the contrary, Cocteau was certainly no poet of any stature, and his lack of writing skill can be seen in this undeniably dreadful screenplay, loaded with the most clichéd claims about poetry and art, and the most banal and absurd imagery imaginable- even as Cocteau believes it is deep. Part of the odd charm of the film, and its predecessors, is that Cocteau really does believe the crap he spews. At one point in the film he even states, 'It is the unique power of the cinema to allow a great many people to dream the same dream together and to present illusion to us as if it were strict reality. It is, in short, an admirable vehicle for poetry.' Not only is the sentiment false and highfalutin', but it's read by Cocteau with such earnest inanity that one wonders whether he really could believe such tripe and not have to restrain a guffaw.

Testament Of Orpheus is the least embarrassing of the so-called Orphic Trilogy, but it still does not rise above the sci fi schlock of the 1950s, films which often had bold premises, but failed merely in technical and acting aspects. This film is not even bold. It's puerile and trite, and Cocteau is an embarrassment to all real poets. The cinematography by Roland Pontoizeau is often framed poorly, and the music by Georges Auric is woefully inappropriate in many places. Had Cocteau actually been a real artist, this film, and perhaps the whole trilogy and his canon, may have been intriguing glimpses into meta-film, decades before the twin banes of Abstract Expressionism and Postmodernism dulled contemporary painting and literature. Even the often repetitive Charlie Kaufman scripted films of recent years are leagues ahead of this garbage, in terms of narrative twists, depth, and real characterization. Instead, Cocteau was a jack of all arts, and a master of none, a narcissistic unwitting walking cliché in the flesh. I tire of apologists for this sort of manifestly bad art who always try to claim that a work of art that is so terrible is simply 'too deep', or any other such nonsense, to be properly critiqued. While truly great art has often been dismissed in this manner by bad critics, Testament Of Orpheus is not only not great art, but manifestly bad art. Its premises and claims are easily seen through, for they are so shallow, and that is what kills it as a film. One can only wonder what part they had in Cocteau's demise. One can dream, can't one?
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Cocteau talks the talk, but doesn't walk the walk anymore in his last cinematic outing
rogierr1 August 2001
There are nice ideas in this final film by Cocteau. It's a pity he made it in 1959: there had already been Bunuel's l'Age d'or (1930) and Un chien andalou (1929), Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957) and The Seventh Seal (1957) that are all brilliant. Not to mention Cocteau's own Sang d'un poete (1930!), in which the relatively simple technical ideas of Testament d'Orphee were already worked out and even better too. Cocteau utilizes terribly slow motion and awkward backwards play. Where Orpheus was ambitious, this is mere pretentious. The acting is mediocre, despite the interesting cast (Cocteau, Brynner, Picasso). Testament is less thought provoking and less surprising than what I hoped for, but nevertheless worth a try. Perhaps I wasn't in the mood for conversations about eloquence and poetry at the time. Still it is at least as interesting as Orson Welles' F for Fake (1975) in which Cocteau also appeared so prominently.

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The Last Laugh And Testament of Jean Cocteau
Spondonman5 October 2014
Ever since I first saw Orphee decades ago I thought it one of world cinema's Greats, a work of Art and underplayed panache that literally transcends Time. That was Part 2 of Jean Cocteau's Orpheus cycle in 1949 – in 1932 Part 1 Le Sang D'un Poete set the scene in a whimsical primitive way, and Testament was the convoluted Part 3 which became his final film released in 1960. First thing – if you enjoyed Orphee I recommend not watching this immediately afterwards, it's a contrast between gold and brass. Second thing - if you don't like pretentious art films this is a special case, it's still by far the best pretentious film I've ever seen and worth watching for its self-confidence. If you do like pretentious art films then to come clean I'm one of the denser people so disparaged by the previous exalted commenter therefore I have nothing I can impart to you. I've always considered this only as Cocteau's Testament – it's all about him and his thoughts of posterity at 70.

Cocteau as film maker and poet stands between two worlds accused of being guilty of Innocence and is condemned to Life while his last film makes itself around him. There's a lot more to it, involving going backwards forwards and sideways in Time and Timelessness with or without trick photography, all of the cast large or small spouting cod-heavy aphorisms with gossamer realism or relevance. It gave him a chance to revisit the subject, and as he admitted at the end of the film to give some of his old friends (Casares, Perier, Dermithe etc) a job in the revisiting – after all, he was by now to use his own words from Orphee now "rotten with success" and could get away with murder. He died twice in here – even the Motorcyclists Of Death only wanted his autograph - and he lived and died to tell the tale. I can see where Banksy got his inspiration for his recent Mobile Phone Lovers from. I take away the image of Cegeste's image being saved from backward burning only for the image to be torn to pieces, that cerebral scene was worth the eighty minutes! The twenty minute wordy trial scene gets tiresome as you gradually realise its pointlessness apart from the padding out of the temporal running time. But there's plenty of tremendous imagery and heavy moralising throughout; Cocteau was incredibly talented, big on surrealism the occult and symbolism of all kinds, all more or less intellectual dead ends and as with many other big thinkers full of mumbo jumbo before and since he agonised over the merits and demerits of the Catholic Church, another dead end. Whereas with Orphee he made a film that could be enjoyed over the generations by all kinds of people with various levels of brainpower he created here a film so obscure it only plays like an in-joke raspberry to the world of the end of his life.

So there you are – I do quite like Le Testament D'Orphee so hopefully Cocteau won't be sad wherever he is, it's just I'm not a poet and have an old nose for Art and Artifice. No matter how unique or interesting this film is to me or even for that matter to those of a higher intellect, he was simply having a laugh.
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philfromno17 September 2002
Modernist renaissance man directed quite a few groundbreaking masterpeices in his time, like the hallucinatory Beauty and the Beast and Blood of a Poet, basically setting the stage for art directors ranging from Ingmar Bergman to Jean-Luc Godard. But here, he made a film so tired and silly looking, it almost crosses the line into so-bad-it's-good.

The film basically consists of the elderly Cocteau himself, wandering through a world of people in crazy-ass costumes, and making faces that bear a striking resemblance to Bela Lugosi's horrified looks in Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda. There are also some elementary special effects (backwards film, for example) that are somewhat less than mind blowing, even by 1960 standards.

Interestingly, the incredulous person staring a people in costumes was done much better 2 years later in Herk Harvey's low budget horror film Carnival of Souls, which, unlike the Testament of Orpheus, is a must see.
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Like watching some of Jean Cocteau's home movies after taking a couple hits of acid....
MartinHafer11 March 2012
My summary is NOT meant to be sarcasm but an accurate description of what I saw in "Testament of Orpheus". It really does play a lot like a home movie of Cocteau's--complete with his friends making guest appearances. A few of the more notable ones are Jean Pierre Leaud, Pablo Picasso and Yul Brynner. As for the plot, it's really hard to describe and it is VERY freaky. It's sort of like a combination of a dream, the life of Cocteau, time travel and Greek mythology all rolled into one very strange film. If you try to make sense of all this, it will probably make your head explode--and it seems pretty clear that Cocteau had no intention of making the film understandable or doing a traditional narrative. Because it is essential a vanity project and an art film, I really cannot rate it. However, I think I'm very safe in saying that the film probably holds no interest to the average viewer but is something best seen by Cocteau-philes and lovers of the avant garde or surreal.

As for me and my own opinion about the film's merits, I thought the project was very repetitive--though it did have a few moments of interesting introspection by Cocteau (who plays himself through the film). Sadly, though, despite his introspection, this is yet another Cocteau film in which he over-used slow-motion and rolled the film backwards again and again to achieve his artsy effects. Essentially, you see nothing new here in the way of techniques--having seen this is "Blood of a Poet" thirty years earlier. And, it does not have any sort of lasting appeal or a coherent story like "Orpheus" or "Beauty and the Beast" (his two masterpieces). Skipable if you ask me but a mildly (very mildly) interesting piece of performance art.
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Muddled gunk interesting for Greek Classicists only
Akzidenz_Grotesk1 September 2010
I've never been impressed by Cocteau's films but I give him credit for having the energy to put his personal takes on myth and symbolism on film. Unfortunately, one really needs to be steeped in the various characters of Greek Myth to appreciate this one. The imagery is quite imaginative and the situations are sometimes funny but the whole never comes together. It's just one pointless existential tableau after another, which may be Cocteau's aim but it fails as substantial entertainment. The various contemporary celebrities that have cameos do little and add little to the film.

I can really only recommend this film to those who want to learn about Cocteau's film style or those who like to see the Classic Greek myths used in a mid-20th century film medium. Otherwise, it's a jumble of confusing dialogue and imagery to be taken not so seriously.
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My rating: 8
kekca7 January 2015
As I stared at Picasso, he stared at me the same way. But let's not start browsing the newspaper by reading the sports news. This is the last film of Cocteau, film, marked by the built in time style and it constitutes a legacy of Orpheus, the way it is will or inheritance, if you will, of the director himself.

As the third part of the trilogy, it is the walking of a full circle in the human being done in two ways - on a personal level, from childhood and the first life, old and last life and historically, from mythology to science and modernity. On foreground is the idea of the fateful moment in our existence, the intersections of our past, present and future existences, still seeking their own sense separated from one another, and the constant questioning of the miracle of the human presence. Poetry and science, holding hands, are grinding up to interfere in the mysteries of the mythological story. Their results are not greatly productive, but they are and give comfort to those who have been vocated to them. We are shown the most severe a burden and that is to being a judge of others and instead of indulging in space-time, to get security logic and predictability. Somewhat Kafkasian, those who stand before the law, are waiting their trial. The director shows his ability to see the development of different actions and characters in a long time plan, and also provide his place into them.

The development of action shows us that more important are the desire and ability than the effect and power of cash rivers. To such titles we can turn only to sigh, because they are uttered as pieces of rock of the time and the history of cinema that are long forgotten and kicked out of the way of modern man that took a sharp turn, passing them with their topless cars.

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Unpretentious despite its detractors: in fact Cocteau at his most intimate
feodoric1 September 2014
Le Testament d'Orphée is an uneven work compared to the more achieved and better realized Orphée (to which it is very tightly related of course) and for this reason, may not appeal to everyone, even those who were enchanted by Cocteau's visual poetry in Orphée. There are of course a good number of puzzling scenes, but they remain quite tame compared to Le Sang d'un Poète, a much more hermetic and typically surrealistic film (a la Bunuel), and Cocteau's approach, far from being that of some elitist intellectual, is in fact caring for his audience. The imagery presented to us in Le Testament is often introduced by Cocteau's off voice and very often also, by himself on screen. I always felt welcome to his world, comfortable in his poetic universe, because he truly seems preoccupied by how we react to what is shown to us. The numerous scenes with the Hibiscus flower are at the heart of how the various components of Cocteau's clockwork interact for the benefit of his spectators. We marvel at simple things now: Cocteau debunks the symbolism of the second part of the Trilogy: we're reminded that Cégeste and Heurtebise are the fruits of an early poem by Cocteau. We are reunited with the Princess (Maria Casares) and Heurtebise (François Périer) at a tribunal where everything and everyone now seems to be less threatening, where everyone is taking oneself less seriously than in Orphée. Le Testament is truly a work of love, of true affection from Cocteau to everyone of us.

There is nothing pretentious here, and only a few philistines may remain impervious to Cocteau in the same way as they likely are to poetry in general. Poets are the least well understood workers in our society, and for the densest among us, they are probably completely useless parasites living out of public charity. But if Cocteau's message is to be of any significance today to his fellow humans, 50 years after his death, it is that poetry does not need to be some hermetic language published in expensive editions for a happy few enlightened elite cut from the rest of society. One of Cocteau's pioneering contributions is his use of the "cinématographe" – as he liked to refer to it – as a tool for a poet to convey the mechanics of his mind to something tangible. He often said (e.g. watch the fascinating documentary Jean Cocteau: Autoportrait d'un inconnu (1985) on the Criterion edition of Le Sang d'un Poète, a must-see to truly understand Cocteau's cinema) that the poet does not control what he thinks, what he imagines, etc.: he is merely a conduit between some immaterial but powerful source (call it God, the gods or whatever) and his fellow mortals. Cocteau was the first recognized published poet to use cinema successfully and creatively to express poetry from the privileged and original point of view of a poet. His most achieved work in this respect was La Belle et la Bête, but the Orphée "trilogy" is a close contender for that matter. Furthermore, unlike other surrealists and fellow artists of his era (such a brilliant one, with so many luminaries from times the likes of which we will never see again – ours is a whole different universe) whose output was mainly through painting and literature exclusively, Cocteau's poetic films are not only still among us, but through the contribution of scholars or simply cinema lovers, still resonate to this day and enjoy a second or third life thanks to the democratizing effect of digital technology. And this is where his effect and influence on us is at its most vivid and significant.

One can rightly argue that Cocteau's cinematographic book of tricks gets rapidly limited as we watch his films, and that his gimmickry may appear a little bit naive, especially to 21st-century eyes. However, one must be reminded that what we witness by viewing his films is the vision of a poet, and this is where the viewer must try to put him (her)self, i.e. to discard our unforgiving, CGI-saturated view of film images, and concentrate on the symbolism of Cocteau's universe.

This is why one should not watch the Testament d'Orphée before the better rounded up works, especially La Belle et la Bête, which is a true masterpiece. And as with all masterpieces, everything else, including one artist's other works, pales in comparison. But at least, Cocteau's language becomes better articulated and more understandable once we have been exposed to the most seamless of his poems.
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"The Secret" Reality Unseen By The Public.
Men_Moi11 January 2014
This motion picture is remarkable, in it's grandest statement. I won't say much, although if you look into a particular character in the opening sequence, "Professor Langevin" he is a real person in history. A French Physicist, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Langevin

Monsieur Langevin is what I name, the French "Einstein". But, in my opinion far more complex and advanced lifeform. If you, do a google search for "Langevin & Einstein" in google images, you can find a famous photo where the two minds collided.

So, what is the mystery behind this character? Or rather the secret? It is very groundbreaking, Jean Cocteau's genuine testament on distorting reality, not here in the present day, but rather since in the movie he is a time traveler, the Future, where the Professor awakens from his dream. He calls it a magic bullet. And that is what it is...

This is one of cinema's finest magical pieces, in that there's a mysterious distortion in reality, in the Future. Look into it, you may think that, all this are just assumptions, but, remember Langevin is a real human like you and me.

So, what we believe as surreal, may not be actually surreal at all, rather the opposite, a genuine reality that happened to be in a theatrical production, a fantasy. Being that, is why we call it surreal.

I would say, Cocteau's surrealism is heightened best in this masterpiece.

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Jean Cocteau looks back at his life's work in his farewell film to the world.
ironhorse_iv14 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
One can view this movie, and find themselves asking themselves by the end, what did they watch? The movie has very confusing that tossed all logic out of the window. One might think it's a continue story of Orpheus (1950) with the opening scenes, but the series of symbolic encounters and surreal images more resembles The Blood of a Poet (1930). This movie might be considered the final part of the Orphic Trilogy, but it's just a film that is a petrified fountain of thought, in my opinion. In his last film, legendary poet/film maker Jean Cocteau portrays an 18th century poet who travels through time on a quest for divine wisdom while seeing his past work come back alive due to his inspirations and obsessions with them. Cocteau's persona is unstuck in time, and materializes in and out to episodically interact with various characters such as two judges who essentially put Cocteau's life on trial, some mimes dressed like horses, a camp of gypsies and a professor who apparently enabled this time travel through inventing a bullet which flies faster than light. In the opening narration, Cocteau alternatingly calls the movie "a striptease show where I take off my body to reveal my soul" and "a poet's legacy to the youth which has always supported him." Testament of Orpheus brings full circle the journey Cocteau began in The Blood of a Poet, an exploration of the torturous relationship between the artist and his creations. In a mysterious wasteland, he meets several symbolic phantoms that bring about his death and resurrection. In the end, the film is mostly a tribute to himself and him looking back at his work before accepting his death. Too bad, the movie doesn't truly show that. Instead, the audience gets an phantasmagorical whirl of imagery, tragedy and an enormous, transcendent sense of wonder. The movie works as an art surreal film, as the movie goes from one dream sequence to another. The film use great work of imagery. Mirrors, horses, flowers, tapestries, are used to represent Cocteau's past. His special effects and camera tricks are always a highlight of his work, as he sees slow motion walk scenes, and selective color. My favorite is the backwards-motion. A great example of this is how the punctured, smoke-filled balloon reassembles or a burned photograph is restored. Others are an erased blackboard sketch reappears. A draped sheet flies upward. Cegeste jumps out of the ocean, perfectly groomed. And the lengthiest example is the meticulous repair of a torn-up hibiscus flower. Check them out, it's probably the best high lights of the film. The film was shot on location at Les Baux in the South of France and it's beautiful. The movie also host a few famous cameos such as Pablo Picasso, Jean-Pierre Leáud, Jean Marais and Yul Brynner. The music is charming. Most of the film is Handel. Concerto in A minor, Op.6. While it's the best of the trio, it's nowhere near a good film. It's a bit pretentious, stiffly acted and cinematically dated. His lack of writing skills can be seen in this undeniably dreadful screenplay, loaded with the most clichéd statements about poetry and art, and the most trite and incongruous imagery imaginable. The scenes with a man walking about with a fake horses head might be a bit silly today. By contrast, Cocteau's symbolism is so heavy-handed, so obvious, and so manifold that they have little real-world referents so they can be hardly understood by the average viewer. The scene with the faster than light bullets is weird science, Cocteau brings them into the past so the professor can shoot him, thus sending him back in time. How all that works is left unexplained. In a way, the movie is full of mixed imagery that rarely makes any sense to anybody, but Cocteau himself. In the end, Cocteau, the poet movie maker, nobody has reached higher doing poetry with images. Nobody. Rather than being a complete ego trip, it is closer to what Fellini did in "8 1/2", a similar work of genius, where the soul is searched, a document is made with all the art and craft the director can bring, and doesn't matter if the audience get it or not. Once Cocteau vanishes for the last time, the film ends. "If you didn't like it, I'm sorry," he humbly adds. Check it out if you're a huge Cocteau fan, if not, research more about him before watching this film.
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Bad Acting
anthony_retford15 April 2010
Cocteau must have been quite vain to make a film of his life and star in it. What a waste of time. Pretentious dialog, dated special effects, a penurious set, over-studious acting, and a score that just did not fit.

The dialog was stilted and affected: it did not make any sense at all. Maybe it did to Cocteau but even that I doubt. It was full of enigmatic and obtuse references to who-knows-what? I suspect Cocteau just went overboard in tangential talk.

The special effects were embarrassing but done with such gravity that you had to take a double-take at the vapid seriousness displayed.

The only actor worth seeing was Yul Brynner. Cocteau should have stayed on the other side of the camera. He was not an actor just like Hitchcock was not. Cocteau should have learned from Hitchcock and just had a cameo role. It actually became painful watching him move deliberately from scene to scene. Not that the scenes made any sense except in his poor attempt at stitching his memories together.

The main set was a ruined building built with large blocks but it had peoples' initials scored on their faces. So a scene that was intended to be somber or meaningful had scrawls of past visitors clearly visible. Whatever effect Cocteau intended was lost by the distractions. The set was messy too. Could not it have been cleaned and swept for heaven's sake? The acting in general was amateurish. There was no spontaneity, no joie de vivre; nothing to show Cocteau led anything but a pretty boring life. Surprising really when you know he was responsible for Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite movies. But that had Jean-Alfred Villain-Marais and Josette Day in it.

The music was empty and powerless. I have just watched the movie and cannot even remember any part of the score. If you are going to write a score for a movie make some of it memorable.
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The Life of a Poet
Eumenides_016 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Jean Cocteau's last movie is a lovely parade of fascinating images, concepts and characters. Playing the The Poet, his alter ego, Cocteau reflects about his work as a filmmaker, visual artist and poet. In a self-reflexive move, he references his previous movie, Orpheus, and openly addresses the creation of cinema. We're given a window into which we can look at Cocteau's inspiration and creativity. The sets are clearly sets and the characters are described as no more than inventions by him. This is meta-cinema, before Dogville, Day for Night, Persona and Otto e Mezzo.

It's also a visual feast of fantasy. Cocteau had a surrealist streak and fills this movie with images that could belong in anyone's dreams: people dressed up as horses, which is not as silly as it sounds; cadaverous masks; a clever use of reverse motion to show time running backwards, which I presume is how the filmmaker shot the reconstruction of a flower he had just torn to pieces.

Almost fifty years old, The Testament of Orpheus still looks modern and remains challenging. There are things in this movie that contemporary cinema doesn't use anymore, which is a pity; for rather than being old-fashioned, this movie still has a lot of teach to young filmmakers.
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