THE BLOOD OF A POET (Jean Cocteau, 1930)

Near the beginning, a tall, slender chimney starts to collapse; the action completes at the end. In between, then, in a split-second, lies a dimension where time doesn’t move forward but possesses depth.
     According to Cocteau “a realistic document of unreal events,” Jean Cocteau’s Le sang d’un poète considers the sacrificial act of artistic creation. “It has a suggestiveness,” Pauline Kael wrote, “unlike any other film.”
     Appearing in his palm is a speaking mouth/stigmata (inspiration), which at one point the poet tries shaking off but then transfers to the statue of a woman, which comes to life and directs him to enter the room’s large mirror, which he does with a splash. He thus enters the theatrical hotel, with its many doors through whose keyholes he peeps; through one the poet espies the shooting death of a Mexican, which he (and we) then see in reverse slow motion that restores the mowed-down man to life. Eventually the poet re-enters his room through the mirror and smashes the statue that the woman has turned back into: his assault on the burden of being an artist—what a poet ought to embrace. As a consequence, he himself rigidifies into a statue in the snow. The snowball fight of oblivious schoolboys causes the statue to evaporate; out of another mouth—a fallen boy’s—blood gushes.
     With a cut, the same setting holds an “elegant gathering.” The Angel of Compassion, a black boy, covers the dead white boy’s body. Guests seated in theater boxes watch below a card game between a man and a woman. The latter, Death, wins but turns to stone and, ultimately, into a sketch: the immortality of art.
     With its heady otherworldliness, this film is silly sometimes, a bit mawkish, and essential.

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