“The Testament…” is, semantically, virtuoso interweaving, on the part of a director, of human aspiration for immortality and the human ability to welcome mortality as a more decent and refined position than the ontological bracketing of the existential reality. The poet in the film (played by Jean Cocteau himself) is the incarnated compromise between humanness to the end, on the one side, and the human megalomaniacal pretention (growing from the wild soil of irrational fears) to be superhuman. Going through experiences of his perception of life the poet gets the ability to grasp the spiritual pedagogy of Hibiscus flower. Cocteau’s film is about a specifically poetic talent to resurrect the things of the world (recovering Hibiscus flower as a symbol of all living creatures) while fearlessly asserting his human limitations.

Cocteau depicts the evolution of the poet’s personality from searching for personal immortality in his poetic creativity to supporting the otherness of the world. It is, as if, in his youth and middle age the poet is a believer in his own immortality through his poetic creations, and only later, after his returning to 20th century he changes his creative focus from his own poems as the emanations of his poetic soul to the soul of the world as otherness. The transition from the first to the second phase of the poet’s evolution is even noticeable through the changes in his manners and intonations. As soon as he had “re-incarnated” from being a wanderer through various periods of human history into a human mortal (his historical reincarnations were something like attempts to avoid the mortality trap – his belonging to a concrete epochs) he from a confident narcissist is transformed into a spiritual bum. Before his mannerisms and intonations were not arrogant, of course, but impregnated with the awareness of his exceptional self-worth as a poet and as a result – as a human being, a little condescending towards “regular people”, but after returning to modernity and forgetting the medieval “aristocratic” posture and clothe the poet’s soul became inseparable from humility and disorientation, got a paradoxical grace of existential awkwardness.

The poet’s soul becomes what it was always (beneath the poet’s defensive cover of being “poetically immortal” – the carrier of extreme contrast between the unconscious intuitive abysses and conscious fragmented rationality, or between talking through destiny (the image of the talking mouth of the palm of the hand) instead of indulging in everyday cliché-exchanges, or communicating “through the body that contains us while not knowing us, which lives in us while having lived before”, instead of through socio-morphic rituals of conventionality. Cocteau as an actor personifies this condition with almost supernatural exactitude. His awkward, rigid, absent-minded body moving without confidence through the archetypal spaces – eclipsed schemas of social life, is not another side of the poet’s personality, but its very heart which lives through listening the human environment by its blood‘s currents and its pulsations, accumulations and releases.

From writing poems and living, as if, inside them the poet with years gets the capability of restoring destroyed Hibiscus flower back to life. Cocteau foresees our situation in the 21st century – of the non-postponable necessity to restore the world of nature outside and inside us, which the predators among us have managed to harm and almost wreck. Like the poet in Cocteau’s film recovers the destroyed flower (symbol of life), we today confront the task of saving the planetary nature and must find the way to achieve it.

Jean Marais – Oedipus walking through history – an unforgettable several minutes of the film, Francois Perier (Heurtebise) and Maria Casares (The Princess/Death) are masters of personification of human internal world, actors representing the opposite of Hollywood socio-situational acting. Even Edouard Dermit – a non-professional actor (Segeste/Segestius), acts “metaphysically” – with an emphasis on the psychological internality distanced from (not identical with our acting-out ego) the social situations (social “causes” of human “reactions”). The music of Bach and Vivaldi transposes the internal code of the film’s meaning into the language of tears, but also silent/muffled humor.


Jean Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”


Jean Cocteau, “Villa Santo Sospir”

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Professor (to the left) will soon release the poet (who just arrived from another century) from the burden of immortality without the exact intention to do so

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Cocteau is filming “The Testament of Orpheus”, Nice, 1959

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The metaphorical/mythological place where the poet died after being pierced by Aphrodite’s spur

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Jean Marais/Oedipus is walking through the human history in Cocteau’s “The Testament of Orpheus” (during filming the Oedipus episode)

Posted on Mar 16, 2016 –   Jean Cocteau’s “The Testament of Orpheus” (1959) – Psychological Alchemy of Poetic Creativity and Self-reflection (Phases of the Artist’s Spirituality) by Acting-Out Politics