A truly diverse, influential and mercurial artist, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) approached everything he made with the vision of a poet. Exploring the porous boundaries between fairy-tale, memory, dream, everyday life, death, and masculine, feminine and queer sexuality, Cocteau’s pioneering lyrical and avant-garde work spanned many fields including writing, poetry, painting, design, criticism, acting and filmmaking. He was a polymath who regarded beauty as the ultimate goal to which all of his work should strive. Mixing personal with classical mythology, while openly exploring his own homosexuality, he “set Greek tragedy to the rhythm of our times”. Born to a prominent family in a small town outside Paris, he became associated with writers such as Proust, Apollinaire and Gide when in his early 20s. His integration into the fervent artistic social scene in Paris in the 1910s and 1920s led Cocteau to complete a varied slate of work, such as a ballet with designs by Picasso and music by Satie (Parade in 1917), and to undertake many creative collaborations with artists such as his lover, actor Jean Marais, Jean-Pierre Melville, Stravinsky, Colette and many others. Despite his work across many forms and mediums, Cocteau’s major artistic contribution was to the cinema. Directing his first film at age of 40, Le sang d’un poète, Cocteau approached the movie screen as “the true mirror reflecting the flesh and blood of [his] dreams”. This season celebrates Cocteau’s truly singular body of work, incorporating all of his key films including his extraordinary collaboration with Melville (Les enfants terribles), his gorgeous adaptation of La belle et la bête, and his hugely influential “Orphic trilogy”.
As part of the Cinémathèque’s return to in-person screenings, we’re pleased to include a rare 35mm screening of neglected Japanese master Hiroshi Shimizu’s 1937 film Forget Love for Now. This is a preview of a three-week overview of Shimizu’s films that we’ll unveil in 2022.
Jean Cocteau (1950) 95 mins – PG
This intensely personal reworking of the Orpheus legend is probably Cocteau’s most influential cinematic achievement. He uses reverse slow-motion and negative images to suggest the Underworld, while the ordinary domestic life of Mr and Mrs Orpheus is filmed realistically, elaborating the theme of the poet caught between real and imaginary worlds. This haunting and visually striking
film is amongst the most remarkable attempts to fuse poetry and cinema. Stars Jean Marais, María Casares, François Périer and Juliette Gréco.
Between Dreams and Death: Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus by Danica van de Velde
8:45pm LES PARENTS TERRIBLES
Jean Cocteau (1948) 105 mins – Unclassified 15 +
Described by Time Out as a “gut-wrenching tale of emotional rivalries” and by The Guardian as an “Oedipal farce”, Cocteau’s claustrophobic adaptation of his own play invites a wide spectrum of responses. Five characters, two sets, astonishing close-ups and metronomically precise editing highlight the story of a young man (Jean Marais) who finds himself battling both his parents (Yvonne de Bray and Marcel André), each for vastly different reasons, when he announces that he’s fallen in love. Gabrielle Dorziat and Josette Day round out the ensemble of heightened, stylised performances.
Family Matters: Les Parents terribles by Donovan Renn
7:00pm LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE
Jean Cocteau (1946) 93 mins – PG
This ageless gothic fairy-tale comes fully to life in Cocteau’s magically surreal romantic spectacle. With a dreamlike tone, complete with fantastical inventions, cinematic trickery, and smoke and mirrors, Cocteau’s opus is one of the true landmarks of French cinema. The beautifully detailed costume designs, Henri Alekan’s extraordinarily opulent and fluid cinematography, and Georges Auric’s memorable score are coupled with highly influential effects (René Clément was technical advisor). Jean Marais, Cocteau’s long-time partner and muse, stars as “The Beast”.
Once Upon a Time…: Beauty and the Beast by Jeremy Carr
8:45pm LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES
Jean-Pierre Melville (1950) 105 mins – Unclassified 15 +
A teenage brother (Edouard Dermithe) and sister’s (Nicole Stéphane) unhealthy obsession with one another leads, inevitably, to suicide. Fatalistic and extraordinarily powerful, Cocteau’s beautiful, otherworldly, profoundly literary script must have seemed virtually unfilmable, but Melville’s precise and poetic cinematic style manages to retain its claustrophobic spirit. Shot mostly at the famed Théâtre Pigalle by Henri Decaë, this is a key work of postwar French cinema.
Digital DL / new restoration courtesy of the British Film Institute Archive.
Les Enfants Terribles by Martyn Bamber
6:30pm FORGET LOVE FOR NOW
Hiroshi Shimizu (1937) 73 mins – Unclassified 15+
NOTE: This is a special screening from the currently postponed Hiroshi Shimizu program.
Drawing upon recurring themes that mark much of his work, Shimizu again focuses his lens on the lives of unhappy children and women, particularly mothers, burdened by societal restrictions, prejudices and straitened economic circumstances. In a film reminiscent of specific Ozu movies of the 1930s like I Was Born, But… Shimizu explores the tragic implications of a dignified single mother forced to become a bar hostess and the devastating impact this has on the life of her son.
35mm print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.
Adrift in the Shadows of Fog: Forget Love for Now by Rolland Man
8:00pm LE TESTAMENT D’ORPHÉE
Jean Cocteau (1960) 80 mins – PG
Mixing life and death, present and future, nightmare and dream, the third part of Cocteau’s “Orphic trilogy” is a summation of the artist’s works and preoccupations. Cocteau as The Poet wanders weightlessly through a dream landscape peopled by his friends, collaborators, characters and images from his films, including María Casares, Jean Marais, Pablo Picasso, Françoise Sagan, Charles Aznavour, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Brigitte Bardot, Edouard Dermithe and Yul Brynner.
“An Artist Always Paints His Own Portrait”: Jean Cocteau’s Testament of Orpheus by Wheeler Winston Dixon
9:30pm LE SANG D’UN POÈTE
Jean Cocteau (1930) 55 mins – Unclassified 15 +
“Every poem is a coat of arms. It must be deciphered.” So begins Cocteau’s decadent and sensual first feature, a subversively autobiographical work that mines his own history as an accomplished artist to contemplate the sometimes-tortured relationship between creator and creation. Cocteau conjures indelible images of life, death and dreams in this free-associative, sensorial and homoerotic dance, establishing the vividly surrealist sensibility that defines the director’s later films.
The Blood of a Poet by Brad Weismann