"Every poem is a coat of arms. It must be deciphered." Adding cinema to a résumé that already includes writing, theater, painting, sculpture, and self-mythology, Jean Cocteau approaches it as a parlor riddle, a hermaphroditic catalogue, the ultimate medium for the aesthete’s search for the ineffable and the sublime. The dream and its dissipation, "a realistic document of unreal events," everything suspended in the time it takes a chimney to topple into dust. Two episodes in two parts each, from "The Wounded Hand" to "The Defamation of the Host," with fetishes weaving in and out of each other. Shirtless under a peruke, the artiste (Enrique Rivero) smudges the painted mouth off his canvas and finds it in his palm. The statue (Lee Miller) opens its eyes and points to the mirror on the wall as a liquid portal, the poet falls in with a splash. Goya’s fusilamientos, a chained ballerina who takes flight, shadow puppetry and opium vapors, they’re all in the hotel of many keyholes. With the camera wavering from Midas touch to Medusa gaze, flesh becomes stone becomes flesh. Cocteau’s great albatross is given a name (Dargelos, later to haunt Les Enfants Terribles), the boy bleeding in the snow has the Ace of Hearts in his coat and is comforted by the beefcakey angel in his ebony armor. Primitive effects and ticklish reflections, a panoply of orgasms, life and death as a matter of reversed photography. The auteur everywhere on the screen, yet "caught in the trap of his own film." (Compare it to Char’s position: "Poesy will always be pre-eminently an escape...") At the finish line is nothing less than the "mortal tedium of immortality," harp and globe and all. Anger, Parajanov, Jarman and Maddin are the great students of this, though the visions are Cocteau’s own to expand in Orphée and Le Testament d’Orphée. Cinematography by Georges Périnal. Music by Georges Auric. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce