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Film / The Testament of Orpheus

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The Testament of Orpheus is a 1960 film directed by Jean Cocteau.

This very weird film was Cocteau's last, and it was deliberately made as such, his farewell to cinema. Cocteau stars as...Jean Cocteau, who has somehow become Unstuck in Time and is traveling the time-space continuum dressed in a Louis XV costume. After appearing and disappearing and startling several random strangers (all of this taking place on a bare soundstage), he meets a professor who has invented bullets that travel faster than light. Cocteau asks the professor to shoot him, and the professor does, and that works, as he stops time-warping and again becomes Jean Cocteau in 1959.

Things are still weird, though. Cocteau goes wandering around the coast, and accidentally summons Cegeste, a character from his 1950 film Orpheus. Cegeste tells him he must give an offering to the goddess Minerva (Claudine Auger). But before he can do that, he meets two other characters from that film, Death and Death's sidekick, Hertebuise. They put him on trial for attempting to travel to another world.

And that's just some of the weirdness, which also includes pallbearers dressed as horses, a Sphinx, mystical flowers and cameo appearances by Jean Marais, Pablo Picasso, Charles Aznavour, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Yul Brynner.


  • As Himself
    • It's Jean Cocteau, playing Jean Cocteau. Just to make things weirder, as Cocteau and Cegeste are wandering about, they pass another Jean Cocteau.
    • At one point Cegeste tells Death that actually, he's a painter named Edouard, and Cocteau's adopted son. The actor was Edouard Dermithe, who was in fact Jean Cocteau's adopted son.
  • Book Ends: At the beginning, a clip of a smoke-filled balloon being popped is run in reverse, with drifting smoke reassembling itself inside an intact balloon. At the end the same clip is run, but in regular forward motion.
  • The Bus Came Back: The troupe of Romani pilgrims that Cocteau meets after returning to 1959, pops up again at the end, as attendees at his funeral.
  • The Cameo: Cocteau got a lot of famous people to pop up in his weird movie. Jean-Pierre Léaud appears in the opening sequence as a schoolboy, Claudine Anger plays the goddess Minerva (she kills Cocteau with a spear), Yul Brynner plays a sort of doorman at the Abandoned Area where Minerva waits, Pablo Picasso of all people attends Cocteau's funeral, and Jean Marais himself, Cocteau's former lover and the star of Orpheus, makes a cameo near the end as Oedipus.
  • Dramatic Drop: The elderly professor drops his box of bullets as he dies. These are the bullets that Cocteau uses to escape his time warping, after he manages to find a younger version of the professor in an earlier time frame.
  • Either/Or Title: The actual title, as written out by Cocteau in the opening sequence, is "The Testament of Orpheus, or, Don't Ask Me Why".
  • Fanservice Extra
    • Cocteau was gay and liked to put homoerotic imagery in his movies, and he did here, showing two guys in a horse costume, except that all they're wearing is a horse head, bikini briefs, and a tail.
    • Later there's a Sphinx, that being a topless woman with wings and pretty spectacular breasts, who follows Cocteau for a short moment.
  • It's All About Me: Cocteau says quite overtly and unapologetically that he's making a movie about himself and his feelings about art. When he's asked to draw the flower, he can only draw a self-portrait.
    "My film is just a striptease where I take off my body to reveal my soul."
  • It Will Never Catch On: Cocteau claims that because he wanted to smoke, when he traveled back to 1770 he invented cigarettes. People told him they'd never catch on.
  • Narrator: Cocteau repeatedly shares his thoughts with the viewer in voiceover.
  • Splash of Color: The film is shot in black and white, except for the scene towards the end where Minerva spears Cocteau and he drops the flower. The bloodstain on the rubble and the flower are both colored red.
  • Stylistic Suck: The whole first part of the film—Cocteau appearing to random strangers, Cocteau meeting the professor, then his trial—takes place on a bare soundstage. It was doubtlessly cheaper, but it also adds to the unreality of the entire story.
  • Thanking the Viewer: At the end Cocteau in voiceover addresses the viewer, saying that he hopes we liked the movie, because he put his all into it.
  • This Is Reality: When Cegeste first rises up out of the ocean, a startled Cocteau says that in the film Orpheus, Cegeste was a blonde. Cegeste says "In a film, but this is real life."
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: After Cocteau is shot and takes new form as 1959 Jean Cocteau, he asks the professor "Did I die in your presence? I have a very bad memory for the future."
  • Trial of the Mystical Jury: Death and Hertebuise, two characters from Orpheus, materialize and put him on trial for seeking to know another world. They sentence him to life, which Hertebuise snarks is a short sentence at his age.
  • Unstuck in Time
    • For no reason, apparently, Jean Cocteau is traveling around in time at random. This seems to be a metaphor for the timelessness of poetry and art.
    • At one point Cocteau meets a princess who, it seems, has herself come unstuck in time. She says she's reading a mystery novel that won't be written for another 70 years.
  • The X of Y: The Testament of Orpheus. The title being somewhat of a misnomer as Orpheus does not appear as a character; it should be The Testament of Jean Cocteau.