(vt The Testament of Orpheus) French movie (1959). Editions Cinégraphique/Cinédis. Pr Jean Thuillier. Dir Jean Cocteau. Screenplay Cocteau. Spfx Pierre Durin, Claude Pinoteau. Starring Yul Brynner, Maria Casarès (Death Princess), Cocteau (Himself), Henri Crémieux, Édouard Dermithe (Cégeste), Daniel Gélin, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Jean Marais, François Périer (Heurtebise) (movie lacks proper credits). 83 mins. B/w and colour.
A decade after Orphée (1949), Cocteau returned to its themes with this, his last movie as director, and intendedly so; it is incomprehensible without prior viewing of Orphée, and little better with. Here Cocteau's identification of himself with Orphée/Cégeste, implicit in Orphée, is made explicit. He appears first as a man lost in time, like a Ghost; he engineers a means of Resurrection in the present. Thereafter he travels, with a resurrected Cégeste as guide, through a zone much like that of Death in the earlier movie, being brought before a tribunal where he is judged and found guilty by the Princess and Heurtebise of the charges of innocence and of repeatedly attempting (as a poet) to trespass in another world: his defence is that disobedience is a sacred duty – at least, for poets and children – and his sentence is being condemned to live. For their part, Heurtebise reveals, the two judges were sentenced for their crimes in the earlier movie to spend eternity condemning others. Still with Cégeste as Mentor, Cocteau travels through a landscape of mythological figures – Anubis, Isolde, etc. – and sees parodies of his own values. After surviving a protracted delay at the mercy of a high-flown bureaucrat (Brynner), Cocteau is permitted an audience with Pallas Athene, who spears him for the impertinence of having once equated Virginity with prostitution; among the mourners at his new false death are Charles Aznavour and Pablo Picasso (appearing as themselves). Resurrected once more, he eventually comes to a highway; two motorcyclists appear, but these are not the Angels of Death from Orphée but instead merely military police checking him out. To rescue him from their attentions, Cégeste appears to draw him back into the timeless zone.
Through this tangle, bathed in slightly self-important Surrealism, various themes/preoccupations recur, notably the Phoenix (a photograph of Orphée is reborn from flames), Masks, the status of Dream entities, the unreliability of Time and the independence of artistic creations, which essentially make themselves yet may (like, to an extent, Cégeste) come to resent their progenitors. [JG]