“Most of Aesop’s fables have many different levels and meanings. There are those who make myths of them by choosing some feature that fits in well with the fable. But for most of the fables this is only the first and most superficial aspect. There are others that are more vital, more essential and profound, that they have not been able to reach.”
‘The Blood of a Poet’, directed by Jean Cocteau in 1930, is a short film that uses all of Cocteau’s characteristic camera tricks and special effects but to a different end than his later narrative movies. It features a young poet and artist, a version of Cocteau himself, who in the process of drawing faces accidentally brings a statue to life. The statue then acts as a kind of psychopomp, guiding the poet through a series of surreal and dream-like scenarios including a hotel with a series of unusual guests, a suicidal card game and an anarchic snowball fight that, inevitably given I’d only just seen it, brought to mind Jean Vigo’s ‘Zéro de Conduite’. The imagery and, importantly, the inventive ways Cocteau presents this imagery, is the whole point of the film. The way the director warps reality: transforms mirrors into gateways, statues into people, the way he turns space upside-down, is unsettling and gives the viewer the sense of slipping into a dream. But for all these cinematic pyrotechnics, Cocteau also has the same subversive sense of anarchy and political satire as Vigo and Luis Buñuel. Oddly, the director this movie most reminded me of was Buñuel – particularly the image of a hand with a mouth in the palm, so much like the ant-infested hand from ‘Un Chien Andalou’ made a year earlier, but Cocteau seems to have the same views of the middle-classes as the Spanish director, for example the macabre card game scene watched by a perversely appreciative bourgeoisie audience. It’s an oneiric, enigmatic movie that is difficult to penetrate, not just because of the surreal imagery but because it is now an artefact of such a distant time, but this doesn’t prevent it from being a mesmerising and powerful work of art and an effective meditation on poetry and cinema itself.
Would I recommend it? Yes – if not watched with Cocteau’s later films, in a double bill with either ‘Zéro de Conduite’, ‘Un Chien Andalou’ or even, for the politics, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’