Testament of Orpheus (1960)

testment of orpheus poster 1960 movie
6.0 Overall Score
Story: 4/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 8/10

Good looking

Symbolism gets overwhelming and loses effectiveness over runtime

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Testament of Orpheus

Studio:  Cinédis/Les Editions Cinégraphiques

Genre(s):  Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s):  February 18, 1960 (France)/May 16, 1960 (Cannes)/April 9, 1962 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

testament of orpheus jean coteau jean marais

Guide me!

Jean Cocteau (Jean Cocteau) is a poet crossing through time and finding his way in the world.  As he explores the world, he examines the world and his own role in it.  The poet examines his world and how he now can still exist after his death…the world is open.

Written and directed by Jean Cocteau, Testament of Orpheus (Le testament d’Orphée) is a French surreal film.  The film was the last film by Cocteau and divisive among critics.  It was considered the third film in The Orphic Trilogy which included The Blood of a Poet (1932) and Orpheus (1950).  The Criterion Collection released the film as part of The Orphic Trilogy (Criterion #66) with its own number (Criterion #69).

testament of orpheus skull mask

Death comes for everyone

In an attempt to watch all of the Criterion Collection (or at least the first one hundred films), The Orphic Trilogy provided to be a challenge.  Orpheus was readily available but The Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus were harder to find.  The film eventually made their way onto HBO, but watching both The Blood of a Poet and Testament of Orpheus, you can see why they are definitely more of an acquired taste.

The movie is largely nonsense.  A lot of critics found it to be self-serving by Cocteau, but for the most part, it feels rather in tune with the rest of his work…and is considered a “look back”.  As the Cocteau/Poet-Character wanders around, he encounters things and events, listens to people, and orates.  It takes a lot of focus to see what chain of thought is, and even if you can understand it, it isn’t necessarily worth listening to.

With Jean Cocteau as the lead, he not only is filming, but also shaping his own movie.  He is backed up by his regular (and partner) Jean Marais who acts as almost a shadow for much of the film.  Artist Pablo Picasso also makes an appearance and Yul Brynner has a small role.  All the performances (including Picasso) are surreal in nature.

testament of orpheus oedipus

Oedipus got a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas…this is what happened

What mostly stands out in this picture is what made Cocteau famous.  His approach to the filming is to play with what the viewer is seeing.  Much of the film is shot and then played in reverse to give the character a strange, unnatural movement and to create odd “repairing” shots involving things like the destruction of a flower.  It is a visual feast.

I can’t recommend Testament of Orpheus.  I wouldn’t have made it through the film if I wasn’t a completionist and wanted to see the “trilogy”.  The visuals only can carry the film so long, and the two previous entrees in the series also bring you enough of the same visuals that this film feels a bit redundant.  The movie tries really hard to be relevant and deep, but the less story driven first film of the trilogy and the more story driven second film overshadow this entry which (while loaded with symbolism) drags.

Related Links:

The Blood of a Poet (1932)

Orpheus (1950)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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