Cocteau’s head of Apollo (via Villa Santo Sospir)
Jean Cocteau’s La Villa Santo Sospir, shot on 16mm, is a guided tour of his patron’s villa on the French Riviera. Cocteau covered the walls and doors of the house with frescoes, or “tattoos,” as he preferred to call the illustrations of mythological figures he left all over Santo Sospir.
Though Cocteau presents this as his “amateur film,” a home movie he threw together just to show to his friends, it is in fact very fancily constructed, and offers only the merest glimpse of his domestic life. About two-thirds of the way in, he introduces the villa’s owner, Francine Weisweiller, and Cocteau’s adopted son, Édouard Dermit (“Doudou”), the total babe who appears in Les Enfants Terribles, Orpheus and Testament of Orpheus. Both appear at the easel with their own artwork, as if to emphasize their creative kinship with Cocteau. James S. Williams’ Jean Cocteau sets the scene:
Francine eventually placed her entire fortune at Cocteau’s disposal and even arranged for Dermit’s family to be brought down from the north and installed as flower growers in nearby Biot. The trappings of this new life of luxury included for Cocteau not only the villa and servants but also the beautiful garden facing the Mediterranean, a yacht called Orphée II, and trips across Europe. Cocteau, Doudou and Weisweiller were photographed as a family trio and wore identical triple-banded rings designed by Cocteau (at Francine’s expense, naturally).
We catch a glimpse of this odd but happy ménage à trois – Cocteau’s new family – in La Villa Santo Sospir, a short home movie that Cocteau made over the course of a week in August 1951 assisted by just one cameraman. With the hyper-theatricality of Cocteau’s own performance (this is the first Cocteau film to feature Cocteau as ‘Cocteau’ and his only foray into colour), La Villa Santo-Sospir often stretches the limits of taste and decency, as Cocteau himself later acknowledged when he called it an ‘indiscretion’.