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Lo scrittore 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.
Le Sang d'un Poète (1930) è un crogiolo di tecniche
d'avanguardia e di trovate ad effetto che rappresenta un viaggio nel paesaggio interno del poeta, ispirato
da due moventi fondamentali della sua opera: animare gli oggetti e far parlare gli esseri muti (come i
Sedici anni dopo La Belle et la Bète/ The Beauty and the Beast (1946), from a 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
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).
Orphée (1950), 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.
Orpheus, a famous poet 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 they 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.
L'eccesso calligrafico di simboli personali è un estremo omaggio alla
Le Testament d'Orphee (1959)