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Cannes Gets a Dose of 'Opium'

Film about Jean Cocteau stars a flock of Paris fashion figures.

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A scene from “Opium
Arielle Dombasle in “Opium

Arielle Dombasle in “Opium."

Photo By Courtesy

CANNES, France — The Twenties are roaring again.

Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" opened the Cannes Film Festival here last week and on Thursday, "Opium," a small-budget musical film about artist Jean Cocteau, set in Paris in the Twenties, will premiere here in the Cannes Classics section as part of a special event marking the 50th anniversary of Cocteau's death. A restored version of Cocteau's "La Belle et la Bête" ("Beauty and the Beast"), originally released in 1946, will also be screened.

Co-financed by Pierre Bergè, who is the executor of Cocteau's estate, "Opium" was directed by Arielle Dombasle who, in the spirit of Cocteau, tapped her close circle of bohemian artist pals to bring the creative project to life. They include a colorful cast of personalities from Paris' fashion scene, such as Marisa Berenson, who plays eccentric fashion muse Marchesa Casati; model-cum-actress Audrey Marnay, who incarnates Coco Chanel; musician and journalist Ariel Wizman, who plays Tristan Tzara; and stylist Catherine Baba, who plays the owner of an opium den.

Grégoire Colin, a French actor, producer, screenwriter and director, plays the lead role.

Designer Vincent Darré is the film’s artistic director, with Lanvin's accessories designer, Elie Top, behind the Cocteau-esque graphics and drawings used in the film, mainly in black and white segments evoking dreams and visions. Darré collaborator Fleur Deméry was in charge of the costumes, which include a lot of pieces from Darré’s personal vintage collection.

"It's like a magnetic field, bit by bit a constellation of admirers of Cocteau were drawn to the project…What was fundamental is that it has nothing to do with conformity or marketing. It is a film of passion, poetry and cinematography," said Dombasle, who also stars in "Opium."

Her past directorial efforts include "Paradise Calling," released in the late Eighties, and the documentary "La Traversée du Désir," in 2009. For the movie's premiere, Dombasle will mount the red carpet of the Palais des Festivals here in a custom creation by Darré, accessorized with Lanvin jewelry.

Employing Cocteau texts, including 14 of his poems set to music, the film centers on the rumored love affair between Cocteau and French author Raymond Radiguet, whose untimely death at the age of 20 after eating a poisoned oyster is said to have triggered Cocteau's addiction to opium.

Designed to capture the spirit of Cocteau's universe, rather than play out as a traditional biopic, "Opium" echoes the fragmented nature of Cocteau's 1930 work "Opium, the Diary of his Cure," which the artist penned during a stint in rehab.

"It’s a bric-a-brac of poems, lines, stories related to his life or his friends; it's neither a novel, nor a play, nor poetry, but a mix of all those things," said the film’s producer, François Margolin, whose other producer credits include the acclaimed "Flight of the Red Balloon."

Margolin also wrote the voice-over for "Opium," which is used to link the film's disparate scenes, and worked on the film’s montage. He sees Cocteau as the Andy Warhol of his day. "He was surrounded by this incredible group of people, he was a king of the night scene, but also an artist, writer, filmmaker," he marveled.

"Opium" was shot over the past five months in a number of Cocteau's old haunts, such as Paris' Hôtel Raphaël, the Musée Grévin, the Passage des Panoramas, and a passageway of artist ateliers in Montparnasse. Scenes were also filmed in the city’s Musée des Arts Forains (Museum of Fairground Arts).

French musician Philippe Eveno headed up the film's musical component, with broad inspirations ranging from French pianist Erik Satie to The Velvet Underground. Berenson performs in one of the film's key scenes based in Le Boeuf sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof), a mythic Paris brasserie frequented by Cocteau.

"Opium" will be released in France in mid-October, distributed by Ad Vitam, and is 77 minutes in length. Margolin hopes the film will be picked up by other film festivals, and in Cannes will be seeking distributors for the international market.