Full of haunting imagery plucked from the realm of fairy tales, Orphée is one of the great cinematic fantasies of the 20th century, a bold attempt to merge film and poetry. Updating the Greek myth of Orpheus' journey into the underworld to 1940s France, surrealist filmmaker Jean Cocteau spins a captivating daydream around the adventures of a poet (Jean Marais) who is taken through a mirror into the next world by a mysterious princess (María Casares), who might be Death herself.
Bored by his life of fame and notoriety as a leading Left Bank poet, Orphée is ready for new experiences. After meeting ghostly chauffeur Heurtebise (François Périer), he begins to neglect his doting wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) and spends his time hunched over a car radio that whispers cryptic codes from the afterlife ("One glass of water illuminates the world... twice") in search of artistic inspiration. But there's a price to be paid: two of Death's motorcycle-riding henchmen kill Eurydice, leaving Orphée to travel to the afterlife to save her.
"BRINGS FANTASY TO LIFE"
Like Cocteau's earlier Beauty And The Beast, Orphée updates a classic myth for modern audiences, referencing everything from French Resistance shortwave radios to Nazi bully boys and rock'n'roll teenyboppers. Its real achievement, though, is in realising the power of cinema to bring fantasy to life. Using all kinds of inventive trick photography, Cocteau creates a dream-like universe in which the laws of physics no longer apply as people wander through mirrors and appear and disappear at will.
Dominated by fetishistic imagery - Death is corseted into an hourglass black dress with elbow high rubber gloves; her motorcycle men stalk around in black leathers like rejects from the Village People - it's a breathlessly sexy film, charged with the lyrical eroticism of the fairy tale and fascinated by its own enchanting power. Once seen, it's never forgotten.
In French with English subtitles.