The wonderful Chip Martin will be giving a pre-screening talk about this film.
Jean Cocteau was as close as any one figure may get to being the alpha and omega of French arts in the 20th century. He was a poet, an illustrator, a novelist, a librettist, a playwright, a screenwriter, a director and a collaborator with the great figures in the great movements of the time. In the teens it was Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes. In the twenties it was artists and writers from Picasso to Pound. In the thirties it was the Surrealists, whom he deprecated. In the forties it was the aesthetics of fascism, though he was cleared of collaboration after the War. Bisexual from the start, he had affairs with the wife of a Romanov Grand Duke and with the actor Jean Marais, whose career he developed. Like his friend Coco Chanel he was an opium addict, and his most famous novel Les Enfants Terribles was written during a week of cold turkey. The book became a film after the War, directed Jean-Pierre Melville, an Alsatian Jew who had been active in the Resistance but described himself as a right-wing anarchist. All these elements dovetail into the strange universe of Les Enfants Terribles, the tale of a brother and sister preciously shut away from a brutal, misunderstanding world in a subliminally incestuous cloître à deux. Their relationship is based on childish games of one-ups-man-ship, and as they draw others into it, the consequences become malevolent. The film explores what Cocteau called ‘the algebra of human needs’, sexual, psychological and social. Cocteau would die the day after the death of his beloved Edith Piaf, news of whose demise is said to have killed him. But his avantgarde legacy would live on, not least in film, where it inspired the seminal movement of French cinema in the 1960s, the New Wave.
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