Securing my first new copy of Orpheus, I have to admit to a slight waning of affection. Twenty years ago I taped Jean Cocteau’s flick from a rather good VHS released in the early nineties; the graininess added to its ineffability. As a portrait of the afterlife and fantasy, it’s too chic and rather thick; as an evocation of modern life, though, it’s a marvel: postwar France reassembling itself into a chattering class amid the rubble. Their buying power restored, the bourgeois can afford chauffeur-driven car and manses in the country. Their idea of death? A Spanish-looking dominatrix who snaps rubber gloves as if they were whips. The casting still amazes too. Actor and Cocteau lover Jean Marais looks confused and peevish, not my idea of a poet revered by the kids despite the shock of robust blond hair. The eerie special effects. The sadness of François Périer. Roger Ebert, who included Orpheus in his list of great movies, was unmoved by the casting of Maria Casarès: the mind reels at the thought of Garbo as Death, demanding a drink with the same weary elan shown in Anna Christie.
On the other hand, Jean Renoir’s films after 1950 suggest that color was his bete noire. Although he stumbled in The River‘s dialogue scenes, I chalk it up to the director’s unease with Rumer Godden’s tonal admixture of fable, teen romance, and documentary. There is no reason for French Cancan to be so stilted. This is my third viewing, and other than a couple of flyspecks (the cancan-ists swinging thick beautiful legs against a wall) it has the kind of forced joviality — a bit like the drunk-Irish scenes in John Ford’s movies — that has me looking for the cops. “When he isn’t on pitch, Renoir comes off as an amateur,” Orson Welles confided to Henry Jaglom in 1983, a sentence before praising Grand Illusion as “one of the three or four best ever.” It has its charms: the sets, which reproduce the Belle Epoque as a pop-up storybook; the aforementioned dance sequences; a beefy Jean Gabin, too old for the carousing but game anyway.
Here is the rest of this month’s movie crop:
The Measure of a Man (Brizé, 2016) 7/10
Louder Than Bombs (Trier, 2016) 6/10
Everybody Wants Some!! (Linklater, 2016) 8/10
Born to Be Blue (Boudreau, 2016) 5/10
My Golden Age (Desplechin, 2016) 6/10
Three Monkeys (Ceylan, 2008) 7/10
* Lost Highway (Lynch, 1996) 6/10
Presumed Innocent (Pakula, 1990) 6/10
Let’s Get Lost (Weber, 1988) 7/10
* The Searchers (Ford, 1956) 5/10
* Orpheus (Cocteau, 1950) 9/10
* Gilda (Vidor, 1946) 8/10
Port of Shadows (Carne, 1938) 8/10