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 - 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: the light-haired, famous, handsome and popular Left Bank existentialist, middle-aged poet Orphée or Orpheus (Jean Marais), obsessed with Death, who was married to beautiful but unhappily neglected and pregnant wife Eurydice (Marie Déa)
  • in the opening scene, Orphee was in 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 drunken poet rival, Jacques Cégeste (Édouard Dermithe), patronized by the Princess, emerged from the car
  • a brawl broke out inside and outside the cafe, and Cegeste was struck and killed by two motorcyclists on the street during the chaos
  • the Princess - representing, depicting and personifying Death (revealed later), ordered the transport of Cegeste's corpse in the Rolls Royce parked outside, and firmly urged Orphee to accompany them as a 'witness'; the first of many cryptic radio messages was heard: "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: male, helmeted motorcycle riders dressed in black leather and wearing high boots - they were responsible for Cegeste's death
The Princess with Rolls Royce's Chauffeur Heurtebise
- A Death Vehicle
  • the car was driven to the ruins of an abandoned chateau, where the Princess magically revived Cegeste from death; he and the Princess passed into the Underworld (through a mirror), but Orphee was unable to follow after them; after returning home, Orphee received 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; he sat in the Rolls Royce in his garage 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 Entering Through Orphee's Bedroom Mirror - A Superimposed Shot
At the Foot of His Bed, the Princess Watching Orphee Sleep
Orphee Transcribing Gnomic Messages Delivered Through the Radio
  • as the film progressed, a love triangle developed between Orphee and the Princess, and the love-struck Heurtebise (the Princess' chauffeur) with Eurydice
Love Triangle
Orphee's Love for the Princess
Heurtebise with Eurydice
  • 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, after she had been 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: (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]
  • the underworld scene in which Orphee was brought before a tribunal panel of judges for interrogation; the Princess was forced to admit the reason for taking Eurydice (and breaching her authority) - her love for Orphee: "To get her out of the way and have this man for yourself"; their decision was that Eurydice would be returned with him, but only if he never looked upon her again
  • the shocking moment that Orphee caught a brief glimpse of Eurydice via the rear-view mirror of the Rolls Royce, causing her to immediately disappear; shortly later, Orphee was killed when accidentally shot by a member of an accusatory mob outside his home (for allegedly murdering Cegeste)
  • in the film's resolution, 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

Death of Cegeste Outside Poet's Cafe in Paris

During Drive to Chateau - Outside Background Was "Negative" Image

Orphee's Wife: Eurydice (Maria Dea)

Personification of Death: The Princess

Orphee - Blocked From Passing Through Mirror to 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

The Glimpse of Eurydice in Rear-View Mirror - Causing Her to Disappear

Orphee Shot and Killed

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

Orphee's Happy Ending with Eurydice


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