Re-imagining Jean Cocteau's Imagination: A New Poster for Orphée

Jean Cocteau’s Orphée returns to screens on 19 October, so we spoke to the BFI about their hypnotic new artwork, commissioned to celebrate the restoration of a cinema classic.

I followed the characters on a confusing and unnerving ride to the dilapidated mansion....and then BOOM!...reality gets blown wide open.
— Edward Kinsella

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orphée is one of those timeless classics that demands limitless repeat viewings, and rewards in new and enriching ways with every screening. A film of unforgettable imagery and revolutionary camera trickery, Orphée is a work of poetic beauty and technical wizardry, and it returns to cinema screens this October with a dazzling new photochemical and 2K restoration produced from from the original nitrate negative.

To mark the occasion, the BFI commissioned artist Edward Kinsella to design and produce the film’s poster for a 21st century audience.

“As the BFI have released Orphée in the past, we were very keen to present it in a fresh way for this new campaign,” says Phil Roberts, Marketing Manager at the BFI. “Ideally we wanted to work with an illustrator rather than a familiar still. We were already in contact with James Park of the print publishers Black Dragon Press, and James kindly recommended Edward Kinsella.”

Kinsella is known for his work with the Criterion blu-ray label, re-imagining classic film posters for an age where the analogue world wrestles with the digital age, lending his now iconic style to artwork for everything from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev to David Cronenberg’s The Brood.

“We didn’t give Edward much creative direction,” explains Roberts, “and the final concept came from one of six rough sketches he presented.”

"I have to admit that watching Orphée in preparation for this project was my first time seeing the film,” Kinsella confides. “I didn't know much about it going in, just that it's widely held as one of THE classic films; one of those films that you feel foolish for not watching sooner. I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it as I followed the characters on a confusing and unnerving ride to the dilapidated mansion....and then BOOM!...reality gets blown wide open and everything starts to make sense, kind of.”

Jean Cocteau’s magical retelling of the Orpheus myth turns the lyre-playing singer of Greek legend into a famous left-bank poet in postwar Paris. Fallen out of favour and lost for poetic inspiration, Orphée becomes obsessed with a mysterious black-clad princess who first claims the life of a rival poet, and then Eurydice, his wife. 

Orphée is artfully made and beautifully simple,” says Kinsella. “Visually it's a film that seems to run parallel with my work, and Jean Marais has such an iconic look that I had to make him the focus of the piece. It was a perfect fit for me and a dream project to work on. Thank you to The British Film Institute and Black Dragon Press for the opportunity."

Orphee Quad.jpg

Kinsella’s signature style finds a perfect harmony with the disorienting magic of Cocteau’s film. “As well as a wonderful piece of illustration, we feel Edward has completely nailed the surreal, spooky and otherworldliness qualities of the film,” says the BFI’s Phil Roberts. Staring nervously into the depths of Kinsella’s final artwork, it’s hard to argue with that, as Marais’s hypnotic eyes draw you in further. “I hope Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais would approve.”

Orphée plays exclusively at Curzon Bloomsbury from Friday 19 October, and at the BFI and Cine Lumiere from Monday 22 October.