JUDY KRAVIS

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Sunday, 13 December 2020

Yesterday afternoon I watched Cocteau's Orphée. It was the right level of artifice for the middle of winter, where people in our world skirt each other under watery sun, and nothing useful to say on a christmas card is coming to mind. 

Give me the Café des Poètes in vivid black and white 1950s, Orphée the national poet idol in his pleated chinos, his well-lit bone structure and upward stance, Eurydice in her shirt-waister and full skirt, the foreign princess Death in her strict high heels, her black and white style, imperious and eventually human, and her smooth endearing chauffeur Heurtebise (would that be Hotchkiss, in English?) who ripple through mirrors between this world and the underworld, where Cocteau's voiceover in soothing, precise words carries them onward in some of the most flowing and expressive filming seen from that day to this.

Later the same day I read the first three poems of the second part of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, which are about mirrors. I smiled. Following Rilke (by bike, as it were), bringing Cocteau to Rilke and vice versa, interweaving our cultures with each other is like lining the brain with overlapping layers and seeing each anew. 

Mirrors: no one has ever known how/ to describe what you are in your inmost realm./ As if filled with nothing but sieve-holes, you/ fathomless in-between spaces of time./ You prodigals of the empty chamber—/vast as forests, at the close of day ...  /And the chandelier strides like a sixteen-pointer /through your unenterability.

None better than Cocteau to show how to enter a mirror. Death, and Heurtebise, Orphée and Eurydice enter the underworld through mirrors. They wear rubber gloves because they were filmed dipping their hands into mercury, this practicality offset by the unearthly sounds of Les Structures Sonores, the glass and metal instruments of Lasry/Baschet. The underworld was filmed in the ruins of the St Cyr military academy outside Paris, lit to accommodate Death, in her final robes, white then black then full and flowing, going off, I suppose, into an under-underworld, as punishment for having fallen in love with Orphée and having released him and Eurydice back into their lives.

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