Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Alternate Best Actor 1950: Jean Marais in Orpheus

Jean Marais did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character in Orpheus.

Orpheus is a wonderful and uniquely creative retelling of the Orpheus myth set in then modern times.

Visiting again the collaboration between Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais we find them once again working within the fantasy as previously seen in their version of Beauty and the Beast. Though this is a fantasy it is considerably different. This is as we open the film following this Orpheus as a successful, perhaps more so than he would like, poet going about his day at cafe before a series of events leads to the death of a different young poet and for Orpheus to meet a princess (Maria Casares) who also is in fact death, or at least a death. That's seems a whole lot for an afternoon and well Marais plays it effectively by pretty much presenting it as such. This in portraying an effective sense of both the intrigue and complete bafflement at what is suddenly going on. Marais doesn't put anything on it, but rather is terrific in just showing this as how any normal person would likely react to falling into this situation. This being a whole lot of confusion though with a certain degree of curiosity. The curiosity that he most focuses on being naturally on the seemingly cold yet sort of sultry woman that is the supernatural death. Marais shows a man effectively out of his depth as he suddenly finds himself in a fantastical world, without much to take from it at first. 

After this event, where he sees a man pulled into the other-world,  he is unceremoniously taken home by Death's supposed chauffeur Heurtebise (François Périer) who is also more than meets the eye. This situation though leaves Orpheus more interested in finding out more of this death than his wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) or any other nuisance related to his fame. Marais's portrayal emphasizes a single mindedness towards almost a comic quality in these scenes as he presents the man's singular focus on making sense. He portrays less of an intense mentally breaking obsession but rather a more specific passionate interest. This though leading towards a darkly comic quality in his delivery of every dismissive remark as created equal. Whether this is berating a reporter for asking too many questions of him, or just ignoring his wife, even when she is apparently dying, with the same blithe indifference. She is in fact dying due to the mechanizations of Death who wants Orpheus for herself, however Heurtebise who is also in love with Eurydice attempts to prevent this by bringing Orpheus on a trek into the other-world. Marais's again excelling in being so matter of fact within this idea at times, and just realizing the sort of awe inspiring sense of witnessing the world as he passes through. This as he eventually meets Death as well to which he more willingly declares his love. Again this as a state of immediate passion, though short-lived, or dead I guess, as he is initially sent back with his wife into the living world though with the stipulation that he can never look at his wife. This isn't just when exiting "hades" either it is something permanently that Heurtebise attempts to aid them with. This leading to an absolutely hilarious sequence of the three trying to make it work frankly like a situation comedy, and I say that as a compliment. Marais is hilarious in this scene in portraying the constant slight nervousness and more immediate frustration in every breath and turn as he attempts to not look at his wife again and again. What is so marvelous about his approach is he plays it less as a true love situation, and more of a slightly bored husband annoyed with having to deal with this sudden inconvenience within his marriage he already wasn't too enthusiastic about. Eventually the situation falls apart to the point Heurtebise and death need to organize a mulligan leaving the original lovers together. In what is a singular scene, but an important one between Déa and Marais, where you see them in an actual marital bliss. They're good though in the scene in making it to the point and uncomplicated in comparison to their earlier sequences of fighting. It is effectively sweet and just an earnest moment between them. An earnest moment that caps off this turn by Marais that otherwise is largely a comic romantic lead in this fantasy. This in delivering an atypical turn that is befitting this atypical, and again, wonderful take.


Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings and thoughts on the cast.

I hope Stewart went up for Harvey.

Calvin Law said...

Okay, I definitely NEED to watch this now because it sounds absolutely wonderful.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

I wanted to watch this for so long. Hopefully soon!

Robert MacFarlane said...

Out of curiosity, are you familiar with Hadestown?

Louis Morgan said...


I'll save Perrier not for a lineup but for a review.

Casares - 5(Her performance is a whole lot of things. This in that she grants the performance the sort of ethereal presence one would desire for such a character. This sort of dominating presence she brings that is properly otherworldly just as it is nearly menacing. She delivers such a sincere quality too though within the part and naturally reveals her sort of more "Human" qualities as beautifully. This with a wonderful nuance within revealing the character's pushed down passion. Her chemistry with Marais is great in its simplicity, but what I really love is her chemistry with Perrier. This in portraying the history between the two that grants a sense of both a familiarity and nearly a playful antagonism. She's wonderful here though in not only going from one compelling facet to another but doing it in a way that expands rather than diminishes each of the sides. Wonderful work.)

Dea - 4.5(Her performance is wonderful by simply being so simple in comparison towards Casares. Not simple in her performance though in portraying rather the character's earnest qualities of the loving wife. She's terrific though in portraying an honest sort of petulance but also earned annoyance at her husband's indifference. It is wonderfully realized as she manages to make it both comic but also genuinely warm as well. She balances it beautifully to create the sympathetic wife, while also allowing for the comedy that comes from the relationship.)


Get on it, I adored it.

Shaggy Rogers said...

My final ranking:
1. Widmark
2. Guinness
3. Garfield
4. Marais
5. Price

Louis Morgan said...


I am not.

Michael McCarthy said...

I loved this, though I’m a huge Mark for any version of the Orpheus story. I really appreciated the fact that they didn’t feel the need to get rid of the fantastical and magical elements just because it was set in present-day. Also KNEW Casares would be a 5