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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Orpheus
Orpheus
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Review by Jeremy Kleinman | posted August 16, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie
Made 19 years after The Blood of A Poet, the first installment of the Orphic Trilogy, "Orpheus" continues a number of the themes of the trilogy in a visually impressive narrative style. Jean Cocteau's "Orpheus" combines the classic greek myth of Orpheus, who leapt into the underworld in an attempt to regain his lover, with Cocteau's romantic fascination with the inevitable connection with death that is essential for a poet's true emergence.

While a much more lucid narrative persists throughout this film than the more stream of consciousness style of "The Blood of the Poet," Orpheus nevertheless maintains an enigmatic nature and forces the viewer to interpret the film largely on their own. The actors in Orpheus do a very good job in matching and enhancing the beauty of the film and the enigma which lies beneath its surface. Cocteau's visual style is quite enjoyable, and his favorite obsession, mirrors, once again play a prominent role in the film. Transfixed on the notion that a poet seeks and needs death, Cocteau explains in the film that mirrors are the manner in which our own death is reflected to us as we are able to see our aging through our reflections. He uses them well and often in the film.

Orpheus is, like the earlier installment of the trilogy a complex, highly artistic film from which viewers may find more upon repeated viewings. While easier to enjoy than "The Blood of A Poet," this film can still be quite puzzling. It is worth the time and effort, however, to watch, and the film definitely lives up to the billing it receives as part of the Criterion Collection.
The Picture
While Orpheus is presented in full screen 1.33:1 projection and black and white film, the picture looks quite good for a 50 year old film. The film's mages have been digitally restored and the subtitles are always clear against the background of the film. The print looks good and is quite enjoyable.
The Sound
Orpheus is presented in Dolby Digital Monaural Sound. While the mono sound lays a 5.1 surround sound system largely to waste, the film does not rely heavily on the sound to drive the film and, for english speaking audiences, the clarity of the french dialogue is not as important as the presentation of the film's english subtitles. Criterion has done a good job digitally rerecording the sound, and the cracks and snaps usually present in older films is largely absent here. The sound recording is sufficient to provide an enjoyable movie viewing experience.
Bonus Materials
Sadly, the Orpheus DVD is rather devoid of extra features. The booklet inside the DVD contains an essay by Cocteau that is interesting and very enlightening as to themes of the film and Cocteau's intentions, but should be read after watching the film. The DVD also contains a Cocteau bibliofilmography listing Cocteau's achievements in film and print, but it is the same one provided on the The Blood of A Poet DVD.
Final Thoughts
After watching the previous installment of the trilogy, the notion of Cocteau taking on the mythological story of Orpheus and making it his own seemed quite enticing. The film does not disappoint. While enigmatic and difficult to fully deconstruct, the film is visually impressive and an enjoyable narrative. The film does a good job fleshing out themes which seemed much more abstract in the prior film and demonstrates a maturity and acument developed by Cocteau in the years before making this film. I definitely recommend this film.

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