The Blood of a Poet (Le sang d’un poete) [1932]


Director : Jean Cocteau

Writer : Jean Cocteau

Cast : Enrique Rivero

Review : If you read other review from me, you know my usual format is different, but this little movie deserved a more profound and serious interpretation. One more thing, while writing about it I haven’t researched or read other reviews or anything and I could only get my hands on a French copy so the dialogues eluded me too, but I tried my best based on the visuals so if I said a few monumentally stupid ideas just pass over it. It’s my first review after a long pause.

Jean  Cocteau’s name should sound familiar to you if you are browsing a movie review blog, but if somehow this isn’t the case the most basic thing you need to know is that  Cocteau is one of the mini-gods of surreal cinema.

The Blood of a Poet excels in making senses despite of its absurdity. I will be honest I think I understood about half of it.

The first part is the one you will understand the most, but it will gradually decrease in sense making you lost in the directors mind. You’re going to feel like you are riding his brain-wave, swept up by simple symbols, crushed by heavy ideas while getting drunk on your creations voice. It’s a full ride, making you want more at the end and feeling ready to start exploring Cocteau’s filmograpghy.

The film starts with the image of a young (and I have to say exceptionally marvelous) man preoccupied with drawing his self-portrait. His face shows dissatisfaction and annoyance, it isn’t good enough, but a mouth appearing on his palm quickly shifts his focus from the drawing, to say the least.  Like any other normal man, after the initial shock he starts examining it than shakes his hand in a desperate attempt to get rid of it, of course it doesn’t work.

Then suddenly he accepts this mouth, he slowly moves his hand to his face, to his mouth, yes, it and him kiss shortly then he starts gently caress his upper body, resting his hand on his heart.  Then the artist gives this mouth to one of his creations, a woman statue which becomes alive and starts talking right away.

It urges him to go through a mirror and the artist, after a few moments of hesitation, falls through it into a black pit.

We see our hero crawling through a corridor with four doors, he gets on his knees and looks through the first room’s keyhole. I have a feeling this review is going to be long since the story is just starting now.  The scene he sees is an execution of a traditionally dressed Mexican, then time rewinds and the scene is replayed.

He goes to the second room’s keyhole. That is the only room without a shoe in front of it, but we get a nice focus on the artist’s shoe. In there he only sees a shadow of a hand playing with something, I couldn’t make out what it was, a gun or a feather or hell knows, the artist seems confused as well since he takes his eyes off the keyhole for a second, only to see an asian(maybe) staring back at him as he tries to spy again.

At the third door things start to become crazier as he sees a child dressed up in little bells and a women with a whip urging her to dance. She puts the little girl up on the fireplace, and from there the girl crawls to a corner of the ceiling grimacing to the woman who can only threaten her with the whip from a ladder.

And the last room isn’t less confusing either. We watch as a man is drawn, piece by piece. First a head, the an arm, then the drawn arm is changed with a real one, and this goes on until we have a full body, but the gender keeps changing until the end we get a man transformed into a women and on his/her private part  we only see a few words “danger de mort

Confused the artist sits lost in his mind when another creation comes to rescue him, a man’s face made out of wire and gives him a gun. He slowly puts the gun to his head and shoots, but instead of blood a laurel appear instantly on his head, the wire-head starts to spin madly and the artist tries to return to real world.

For me this is the end of the first part. The only way I could interpret this is in the following way : the mouth represents his feeling and thoughts which he  conveys in his art (the mouth show up on his hand because that is the medium between artist’s soul and creation). As soon as the statue gets the mouth, she starts urging him to go through the mirror – I see it as the doorway to your inner world, meaning the artist is urged to discover himself. The rooms represent different sides of him, different truths : the first rooms made me think about the repetitiveness, fear that his creation won’t be good enough and not being able to change it, neither himself neither the essence of his art he will get ‘shot down’ by others.

The second room beats me, my best guess it represents himself, his soul which he cannot see or understand totally, hence the shadows and the fact that a different man stares back suggests to me like he and his soul are not yet fused into one. I know, this a weak interpretation so if you have another idea feel free to share it.

The third room seems to me like his inner child, which is forced to behave in a certain way by adult (society), the bells symbolizes that every move of his is watched and judged (put on the fireplace felt like being forced to take part in a show, even more being the one who is the show, and when the girl escaped and holding out her tongue, it felt like the childish revolt. Plus the fact that while the little girl was on the ceiling the women despite the fact she had a ladder couldn’t reach her  just highlight more strongly the idea of inner child, a person, a place that cannot be disturbed by no adult.

The fourth room is clearly about sexuality. That scene just oozed from Freudian motives. It represented the duality of genders in us, since we all got feminine and masculine traits, sincerely I don’t even think I need to talk more about this, just open up a psychology or philosophy book. But one thing that gave me some thought was the sign written ‘danger de mort’ since I could see two different interpretation in it. First conclusion as in if you can’t find the balance between the two genders inside you only a hard and unfortunate life is ahead of you, and secondly as in if you can’t identify with your organ, your gender you are dead, to put it simply.

So now let’s talk about that suicide that made a hero of our artist. In one sentence the biggest glory is if you face yourself, then again most artists only triumphed after their death. So this is a bit of a two-way street, but I can see an intersection between them.

Man, I’m getting tired, so I’m going to shorten a bit the following part, especially since I could hardly make a coherent interpretation of it I just caught a few symbols, ideas or just thought I did.

The second part of the movie starts from the moment the artist gets out of the mirror-world, and did he come angrily. He smashes the statue to pieces (destroying the creation that led to his self-reflection),  he did with so much force the dust that he himself  starts to resemble a statue.

Now we see and old statue in the yard of a beautiful old mansion, it’s old, dirty, uncared, overlooked statue around which some kids start a snowball fight, but end up just using it for target. They hit until the head goes down, the body, legs everything there is just nothing left. (kids = years/time)  Then a fight erupts between the kids, one gets tortured : he is strangled by two kids while the rest cheer on.  Now a boy rises with a stone in his hand he throws it in another boy’s face, who falls immediately and bleeds profoundly. As in real life all the kids run away, except the one who threw the stone, he just stares at him with his tongue licking his mouth for a few minutes before finally running away. (new times change and suffocate the old one – new generation tramples on the skeletons of the older ones)

End of the second part, start of the third :

Next to the dead kid’s body a table appears with two players: a woman and a man and another man in mask watching over them as they play cards. The scene is accompanied by cheerful music and the whole scene feels positive in contrast with what happened there.  (after the bloody time – wars, a new era begins a more peaceful, happier and easier life)

That short part is in my opinion the end of the second part, but the third one comes without big ado. The balconies (two of them) of the mansion fill up with old, rich people, you know the ones you see on social events in the theatre and the card game becomes the play.

The woman opens up a golden fang, admires herself a bit in it (obviously vanity, or is it too obvious?), while his game partner gets a card out of the dead boy’s pocket, and the third man puts away his mask.

Then out of the blue we see a sleeping, almost naked black man with a butterfly made out of wire on his back.  He exists the mansion, look around, approaches the table and gets a card from the man’s hand, in the same time the third man’s focus shifts from the man to the women (maybe waiting for her response), but the black butterfly’s task is done so he goes back to the mansion.

The camera shows us that the man playing is our artist, he just throws a card down, and gets a gun, yes a gun again, puts it to his head again, but now after he shoots blood splashes from the wound I form of a David star. The audience starts clapping frantically.

The woman throws her card in the air, waves goodbye and walks away – in another place a door opens and she walks in. Now she starts to look like the statue from the beginning of the movie, she stands next to a cow who has patches of map in its body, even in place of his eyes there are maps. A close shot to his horn generates the next picture of the women holding a harp in one hand and a globe in the other and the transformation is complete she breaks down like a statue.

I think this last part tried to tell us the life of the creation in parallel with the life of the artist. As time pass the creation outlived the artist, hence the card game between the two of them.  When the artist shoots himself, the creation wins so she can become what she was in the beginning : a statue (I think in the artist mind did it become a real person). And judging from the applause she/it got and the ending picture I’d guess it became a muse for others around the world, before it broke down and ‘retired’.

So all in all I see this short movie as a simply meditation about creation and the strong symbiosis between art and artist.

Please note that these are my basic thoughts and I’m pretty sure somewhere in the far corner of the internet lives a perfect review/interpretation of this movie, but I hope I managed to at least to make you interested in it.


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