Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Orphee (1950)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Orphée (1950, Fr.) (aka Orpheus)

In Jean Cocteau's visually-beautiful, eccentric, surreal, romantic fantasy drama set in post-war 1950s Paris - it was a retelling of the classic Greek Orpheus myth (about a musician's descent into the underworld to reclaim his dead wife) -- the avante-garde film was part of Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy, including The Blood of a Poet (1930, Fr.), and Testament of Orpheus (1960, Fr.):

  • the title character was light-haired, famous, handsome and popular Left Bank (Parisian) existentialist, middle-aged poet Orphée or Orpheus (Jean Marais), who was obsessed with Death; he was married to his beautiful but unhappily neglected and pregnant wife Eurydice (Marie Déa)
  • in the opening scene, Orphee was visiting inside the Café des Poètes (Poet's Cafe) in modern-day Paris, talking about how younger resentful poets scorned his success; a black Rolls Royce pulled up outside commanded by the Princess (Maria Casares); it was driven-chauffeured by her assistant Heurtebise (François Périer) - later revealed to be a man who had recently committed suicide by gassing himself to death; a poet rival, Jacques Cégeste (Édouard Dermithe), patronized and supported by the Princess, emerged from the car
  • a chaotic brawl broke out inside and outside the cafe, and the drunken Cegeste, who broke free when he was being taken into custody by police, was struck and killed by two motorcyclists on the street
  • the Princess - representing, depicting and personifying Death (revealed later), ordered the transport of Cegeste's corpse in the Rolls Royce parked outside to the 'hospital', and firmly urged Orphee to accompany them as a 'witness'
  • the first of many cryptic radio messages was heard on the Rolls Royce's radio: "Silence. Goes faster backwards. Three times. Your attention please: A single glass of water lights up the world"
  • after dark, the car was escorted by the Princess' two henchmen: they were male, helmeted motorcycle riders dressed in black leather and wearing high boots - they were the ones responsible for Cegeste's death
The Princess with Her Assistant - the Rolls Royce's Chauffeur Heurtebise - It Was A Death Vehicle
  • the car was driven to the ruins of an abandoned chateau, where the Princess magically revived or reanimated Cegeste from death; he and the Princess (and the two motorcyclists) passed into the Underworld (through a mirror), but Orphee was unable to follow after them
  • after returning home after being given a ride by Heurtebise, Orphee was told that Cegeste's body had mysteriously disappeared, and couldn't be located; he began to receive cryptic messages from Cegeste's spirit, as well as nocturnal visitations from the Princess who entered through his bedroom's mirror and watched him sleep
  • Orphee had invited Heurtebise to live in his house and to store the Rolls in the garage, where he sat in the vehicle and obsessively listened to the radio that was broadcasting abstract poetry and coded messages from the afterlife
Symbolic, Magical, Dreamlike and Fantasy Elements

The Princess Entered Through Orphee's Bedroom Mirror - A Superimposed Shot

At the Foot of His Bed, the Princess Watched Orphee Sleep

Orphee Transcribed Gnomic Messages Delivered Through the Car's Radio From the Afterlife
  • as the film progressed, a love triangle developed between Orphee and the Princess (a symbol of Death) who visited him in his dreams, while the love-struck Heurtebise (the Princess' chauffeur) romanced Eurydice, Orphee's dead wife
Love Triangle

Orphee's Love for the Princess

Heurtebise with Eurydice
  • Eurydice was struck down while riding her bicycle (off-screen) - she had been killed by the Princess's leather-clad motorcycle men and taken to the underworld; Orphee was advised by Death's chauffeur Heurtebise, a faithful guide, about how to enter the underworld through his bedroom mirror-portal - to return Eurydice to life (Heurtebise "I am letting you into the secret of all secrets, mirrors are gates through which death comes and goes. Moreover if you see your whole life in a mirror you will see death at work as you see bees behind the glass in a hive")
Heurtebise Instructing Orphee About Passage Into the Underworld
Orphee Passing Through Glass Mirror Into Underworld - A Tricky F/X Shot
  • the trick-shot scenes (some with reversed photography) were of Orphee's crossing into the dreamy underworld to reclaim Eurydice; Orphee passed himself through a glass mirror (representing the borderline between life and the underworld); he first donned a pair of latex surgical gloves (left behind by the Princess) - that miraculously flew onto his hands - and then extended his magic gloved hands through the mirror [Note: the scene was accomplished by the actor putting his gloved hands into a vat of mercury (representing the glass mirror) and then walking through or into the mirror]
  • Orphee was brought before a tribunal panel of judges for interrogation in the afterlife or underworld; the Princess was forced to admit the reason for illegally taking Eurydice (and breaching her authority) - it was because of her love for Orphee: "To get her out of the way and have this man for yourself"; the judges' decision was that Eurydice would be returned with Orphee to the living world, but only if he never looked upon her again; if he looked upon her, he would lose her again; Heurtebise was allowed to join them, to assist the couple with their new restrictive lives
  • in one of the film's most shocking moments, via the rear-view mirror, Orphee caught a brief glimpse of his wife Eurydice sitting in the backseat of the Rolls Royce parked in the garage, causing her to immediately disappear
  • shortly later outside his home, Orphee was killed when accidentally shot by a member of a vengeful mob from the Cafe that accused him of murdering rival poet Cegeste
  • in the film's resolution, the deceased Orphee returned to the afterworld with Heurtebise, but was again sent back to the living world (by walking backwards in reverse) to be with Eurydice, with their memories erased; the "immortal poet" would soon become a father with his first child with Eurydice; meanwhile, Heurtebise and The Princess/'Death' would now become judges in the Underworld

Death of Drunken Poet Jacques Cegeste Outside Poet's Cafe in Paris

During Drive to Chateau in Rolls Royce - The Outside Background Was a "Negative" Image

Orphee's Wife: Eurydice (Maria Dea)

Personification of Death: The Princess

Orphee - Blocked From Passing Through a Mirror to the Underworld

Eurydice - Orphee's Dead Wife

Orphee Before the Underworld Tribunal

Orphee and Eurydice Returning to the Living World

But Unable to Look at Each Other

Orphee's Brief Glimpse of Eurydice in the Rolls Royce's Rear-View Mirror - Causing Her to Disappear

Orphee Shot and Killed Outside His Home By Mob

In the Underworld, Orphee Was Returned to the Living World Again

Orphee's Happy Ending with Eurydice


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