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In a foreword to his film, "The Eternal Return," the French writer Jean Cocteau explains that the title is borrowed from Nietzsche, and that it means great legends of the past may re-occur without their participants being aware of it. with this interesting idea in mind, M. Cocteau has chosen to present the Tristan-Iseult legend in contemporary settings and in something of the same grand-manner that was to be so successful in his later film "Beauty and the Beast." But, unlike its successor, "The Eternal Return" asks the audience to accept its fairy tale as readily as if it were in today's headlines: "IRATE MATE SPRINGS LOVE TRAP--Wife and Lover Found Souped-up on Love Potion."
If you will allow yourself the indulgence of some of Jean Cocteau's particular brand of photographic sensualness, which is the primary commodity of "The Eternal Return," you will probably have a big time. Otherwise, you may wish that Cocteau had never put the love potion in the medicine cabinet.
The popular conception of the legend doesn't seem to have been tampered with except for the introduction of a dwarf into the ill-fated household. He is about the most repulsive creature imaginable, addicted to listening at keyholes and cutting up flies. It seems a weakness on Cocteau's part to have chosen a freak to personify the evil in the world. But perhaps the choice does not spring so much from Cocteau's philosophy as from a mere theatrical whim. It is just such flaws, and not his experimental miscarriages, which keep Cocteau from getting one of out Genuine Genius Awards which are passed out so frequently these days.
Though the film is directed by Jean Delannoy, it is generally agreed that the quality is Cocteau's. It is a beautifully composed picture; the photography and lighting is not tricky and weird, as might be expected, but soft and strangely caressing; the music is once again by Georges Auric and is most appropriate, the best than can be said of any film score.
In the role of Patrice (Tristan), Cocteau has placed his favorite actor, Jean Marais. Though probably not a very good actor, he serves Cocteau's requirements well enough: he is beautiful, dashing and ethereal. Nathalie (Iseult), is played by a new actress, Madeleine Sologne. The role calls for her to be a little fey, but Mlle. Sologne behaves as if she hadn't read her Master's foreward. She seems, from the beginning, to be "aware" that she is Iseult. She is also too heavily made up for so pretty a young lady and actually is more attractive when the lipstick is gone, and she nears her death.
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I cannot say how stunned and revolted I was to see the local censors had cut the last half-minute from the film. In the final scene Iseult rushes to her lover's deathbed and arrives too late. She, too, is dying and quietly lies down beside him, yielding up her life in one final embrace. At this point the surroundings melt from sight and by a king of cinematic magic the real eternity of the lovers' story is brought before the eyes.
In Boston, Iseult is never allowed to reach the dead body of her lover. This type of vulgar censorship does not ruin the film but it does ruin the appetite.
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