The classic tale of Jean Cocteau's Orpheus is about a musician who has to descend down to the underworld and reclaim his dead wife. He charms the gods with his music so they let him return his wife back to the world of the living but only on the condition that he must never look at her again. The one interesting twist that Cocteau adds to the legend is that of a romance between Death (the princess) and Orpheus which creates a sort of love triangle between the three characters. Cocteau's love for magic, and dreams makes his tale of Orpheus an enchanting beautiful fable with small, subtle special effects and devised trickery with the camera. The astonishing effects that he creates are so simple and yet extremely effective, of people walking through mirrors that look and feel like the ripples of water, reverse camera shots to portray characters springing back from the dead and surrealistic sequences showing the characters getting pulled through the underworld with the light feel of a breeze.
Orpheus was played by Jean Marais who was Cocteau's real life lover at the time and who also played the prince and the beast in Cocteau's enchanting masterpiece Beauty and the Beast. Jean Cocteau did not look at himself as a director but more of a poet and surrealist, who painted, sculpted and who wrote plays and novels, and you can see some striking parallels between the main character of Orpheus and of Cocteau himself. Instead of simply translating the Greek myth of the story Cocteau decided to make it more layered and complex with the idea of obsession and how art can consume and take over the life of an artist. One of the great pleasures of Orpheus is to watch the simplicity of the special effects all the while establishing characters within the fabric of its storyline, as people disappear and reappear, rubber gloves fly onto hands because of reverse photography and glass shatters and magically jumps back together. Orpheus is a enchanting dream-like fantasy filled with several wondrous and exquisite moments that explore the creative imagination of a great artist.