Watch Jean Cocteau’s Short Film About the Elegant House He Painted/“Tattooed” on the French Riviera (1952)

“Vil­la San­to-Sospir belongs to Madame Alec Weisweiller,” says the nar­ra­tor. “It dom­i­nates Cape San­to Sospir, the last point on the map before arriv­ing on Cape Fer­rat. The vil­la is sit­u­at­ed on the road to the light­house and its rocks descend to the sea.” So far this could be any of the myr­i­ad pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion hous­es about big, expen­sive hous­es in exot­ic places. Then it turns per­son­al: “It looks out on Antibes, Cannes, Nice, and to the right, Ville­franche, where I have lived for a long time.” The nar­ra­tor is avant-garde writer, artist, and film­mak­er Jean Cocteau; the house is one he and oth­er artists spent twelve years “tat­too­ing.”

Weisweiller, writes Vogue’s Stephen Todd, was “a Parisian socialite and patron of Yves Saint Lau­rent,” and the cousin of Nicole Stéphane, Elis­a­beth in Cocteau’s Les Enfants Ter­ri­bles. “It was Stéphane who intro­duced the two dur­ing film­ing. It was un coup de foudre, the pair of eccentrics hit­ting it off right away.” Invit­ed in 1949 to stay at Weisweiller’s Riv­iera house for a week, Cocteau soon found him­self, as he put it, “tired of idle­ness,” and asked Weisweiller’s per­mis­sion to paint the head of the Greek god Apol­lo above the liv­ing-room fire­place. ”

So delight­ed were the new pals with the result that they decid­ed Cocteau should car­ry on,” writes Todd, quot­ing Cocteau: “I was impru­dent enough to dec­o­rate one wall and Matisse said to me, ‘If you dec­o­rate one wall of a room, you have to do them all.’”

Matisse con­tributed to the dec­o­ra­tion of the house, as did Picas­so and Cha­gall. You can see it in La vil­la San­to Sospir, the 40-minute film he made about the project in 1952, with more recent images avail­able at Atlas Obscu­ra. Most of the house­’s imagery comes from Greek mythol­o­gy, even the entry­way mosaics, one of which depicts the head of Orpheus. Eight years lat­er, Cocteau would return to both Orpheus and Vil­la San­to-Sospir to shoot his final film Tes­ta­ment of Orpheus. “We have tried to over­come the spir­it of destruc­tion that dom­i­nates the time; we dec­o­rat­ed the sur­faces that men dreamed to demol­ish,” says Cocteau in the ear­li­er film. “Per­haps, the love of our work will pro­tect them against bombs.” And even if Vil­la San­to-Sospir should fall, cin­e­ma has pre­served it for all time.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jean Cocteau Deliv­ers a Speech to the Year 2000 in 1962: “I Hope You Have Not Become Robots”

Jean Cocteau’s Avante-Garde Film From 1930, The Blood of a Poet

The Post­cards That Picas­so Illus­trat­ed and Sent to Jean Cocteau, Apol­li­naire & Gertrude Stein

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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