The only film by famed convict-author Jean Genet, Un chant d’amour depicts the explicitly sexual relationship between two prisoners housed in adjoining cells. Its rumoured cinematographer, Jean Cocteau, made his directorial debut with the still-influential Le sang d’un poète, which became the first part of his Orphic Trilogy.
Le sang d’un poète: ‘Poets shed not only the red blood of their hearts but the white blood of their souls,’ proclaimed Jean Cocteau of his groundbreaking first film, an exploration of the plight of the artist, the power of metaphor and the relationship between art and dreams. One of cinema’s great experiments, this first installment of his Orphic Trilogy stretches the medium to its limits in an effort to capture the poet’s obsession with the struggle between the forces of life and death. Le sang d’un poète remains a richly imaginative allegory of aesthetic invention in which an artist journeys through the looking glass.
The only film by writer Jean Genet, Un chant d’amour is a study of two prisoners in adjacent cells who share moments of great tenderness despite the wall that divides them. The plot is set in a French prison, where a prison guard takes voyeuristic pleasure in observing the prisoners perform masturbatory sexual acts.
In the two adjacent cells, an older, Algerian-looking man and a handsome convict in his twenties: the older man in love with the younger one, rubbing himself against the wall and sharing his cigarette smoke with his beloved through a straw.
Genet does not use sound in his film, forcing the viewer to completely focus on close-ups of faces, armpits, and semi-erect penises. With its highly sexualised atmosphere, the film is now recognised as having been highly influencial on a number of later directors, including Andy Warhol. Because of its explicit content, the film was long banned, and was eventually disowned by Genet in the 1970s.
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