Birkbeck Cinema, 26 May 2018,  2.00 pm
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Directed by Jean Delannoy, France, 1943, 107 minutes
Presenter: Ruth Austin

L’Éternel Retour is Jean Cocteau’s reworking of the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde. Cocteau justifies the film’s recycling of medieval myth by reference to its Nietzschean title: the ‘simple circumstances’ on which the great stories of the heart are based recur. The story is relocated to contemporary France, with Tristan becoming Patrice (Jean Marais), and Isolde turning into Nathalie (Madeleine Sologne).

The film was made during the German occupation. This fact manifests itself by its total suppression. Much of the story unfolds in a country estate and on an island. It seems cut off from reality. But if the film sometimes feels like a fable, contemporary politics nevertheless creep in. The lovers are tricked by a malicious dwarf, Achille (Piéral), while the camera dwells on the blond lovers, their glamour and sacrifice. It has been suggested that the film reflects Nazi race doctrine. Possibly so; but not unambiguously. The doomed quasi-Aryan lovers have to compete with a vivid gallery of comic grotesques for our sympathy and interest.

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