Jean Cocteau’s Fantastic Worlds

In Jean-Denis Malclès’ design, the Beast emerges from the darkness with only his head and mane visible. Likewise, Belle is bereft of a body, her expression can be read as either pleading or desirous.” (Selling the Movie: The Art of the Film Poster)


Come December, I will find myself drawn to the fantastic worlds of Jean Cocteau, who found the supernatural quite natural, who found light in darkness and darkness in light. For winter is a time for introspection and reflection. Cocteau tells stories that can carry you away and bring you back to your own self.



“There is little talking in La Belle et la Bête. It is a fairy tale.
Since I was a child myself I have been fascinated by La Belle et
la Bête. When I was writing La Belle et la Bête, I tried to make the film
that I used to imagine – at a time when I was still too young
to go to the cinema or the theater – from my parents’ mysterious
outings and the programmes that they left in my room.”



Cocteau was one of the most individualistic of the French directors and promoted the idea of cinema as art – distinct from what is usually known as ‘art cinema’. He disliked the elitism of art cinema. His cinema as art is about motion pictures which are full of a myriad of artistic possibilities, something that is rarely explored in contemporary cinema today. To be honest, I have always been of the opinion that art movies are made for critics. Cocteau disregarded critics and placed his faith in the audience, in the collective experience of movie going, something I can not stress enough in this day and age. “Critics have no hold over it [beauty]. […] Critics can not hear it because the roar of current events clogs the ears of their souls. A mass audience is without preconceptions. It never forms a judgment based on the author or the actors. It believes in them. This is the childhood audience – and the best.”

A brilliant mind and visionary artist, Jean Cocteau thought the heart presided over the intellect. How very true… He often referred to his work – an unequalled variety of artistic expressions, from filmmaking, to theater, sculpting, drawing, painting and literature (he even designed sets and ballets) – as poetry, “but not that which relates to verse, but rather a lyrical sensibility rooted in intellectual integrity and hard work”. That kind of poetry, I understand. His films had an ethereal beauty and elegance and he wanted them to appeal through images rather than words because that’s the real style of a film. He was not inspired by facile anti-Americanism and his writings show his eclectic taste in movies. Cocteau believed in his art and in his films and in his feelings and in the artist and in the medium of cinema.

And because I am fascinated by film posters as a medium of art that further advances the language of cinema, here is Cocteau’s film universe in four amazing film posters.

”Cocteau’s simple line drawing transforms into a Roschach test in this poster for Jean-Pierre Melville’s film. It is the perfect metaphor for the eponymous siblings and their tormented desires, which end up destroying them.”
(Selling a Movie: The Art of the Film Poster)



“Remain free in a world where freedom is hounded down,
alone in a world where individuals abandon their individuality
to the group, alert in an inattentive world,
fearless in a world driven by fear.”



“There is a formal beauty in the pyramid form of J. Harold’s photomontage, featuring three central characters from Cocteau’s dream of a film. Death is ever present, while the statues hint at a tale that transcends time.”
(Selling the Movie: The Art of the Film Poster)



“There is nothing more vulgar than works that set out
to prove something. Orphée, naturally, avoids even the
appearance of trying to prove anything.
‘What were you trying to say?’
This is a fashionable question. I was trying to say what I said.”



”Like those of Pablo Picasso, Cocteau’s line drawings were exquisite, their delicacy conveying emotion in the subtlest of ways. This can be seen in the simple design for his Testament of Orpheus (1960). The film title and director’s credit are written, unfussily, in blue ink. Between them, a figure is seen in profile, drawn using one single brown line, with a few additional details making an eye and ear. Two haphazard green lines denote a Laurel, a little orange some hair, and in the background is the gold of a lyre.”
(Selling the Movie: The Art of Film Poster)



”Why is it that the real audience and the most simple hearts
can read all these secrets as in an open book and write
about them in numerous letters to us that would
make a critic’s reputation? This is the audience that
I address, to express my gratitude to it.”


Jean Cocteau quotes from the book The Art of Cinema, by Jean Cocteau



The art of film posters: Interview with illustrator Tony Stella

Orphée’s Death is wearing Elsa Schiaparelli: María Casares in Orpheus

Art directing film posters: In conversation with artist Akiko Stehrenberger

This entry was posted in Film, Film poster design . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.