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European Film  
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Cocteau and Marais subsequently collaborated on several more films, including L'aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle Has Two Heads, 1947), and Les parents terribles (The Storm Within, 1948). Perhaps the most significant of their collaborations is Orphée (Orpheus, 1949). Cocteau set his retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus in post-war Paris, and cast Marais as a poet who follows the spirit of his dead wife to the Underworld. Instead of rescuing his wife, however, he abandons her in his search for the treasures Death may hold. Self-consciously homoerotic, Orphée features striking and original imagery; the film became famous for its use of two leather-clad motorcyclists as the errand boys of Death.

Following the completion of Orphée, Cocteau made no films of his own for ten years; he blamed his withdrawal on the commercialism of the cinema and the dependence of filmmakers on financial backers. He did, however, contribute dialogue, narration, and occasionally full screenplays to the films of others. Cocteau directed his last film in 1960, Le testament d'Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus), another retelling of the Orpheus legend, this time reinterpreted as the story of an eighteenth-century poet who time travels in search of inspiration. Cocteau cast himself as the poet; the film also includes uncredited appearances by Pablo Picasso, Jean Marais, and Charles Aznavour, among others.

Another French artist who has had a significant influence on both queer and experimental cinema is Jean Genet. Although more widely known as a novelist and playwright, Genet also created Un chant d'amour (A Song of Love, 1950), one of the earliest and most remarkable attempts to portray homosexual passion on screen.

Less than half an hour in length and silent, the film tells the story of three prisoners in solitary confinement and the prison's warden. Realistic scenes of the prisoners attempting to communicate their desires for one another (for example, two prisoners share a cigarette by blowing smoke back and forth through a hole in the wall) give way to fantasy images of same-sex lovemaking.

Since its first release, Un chant d'amour has been subject to censorship and banned in several countries on the grounds of obscenity. The film is explicit in its portrayal of gay male desire, showing several scenes of masturbation and containing possibly the earliest images of erect penises seen in a legitimate, non-pornographic film.


Another landmark in the evolution of European gay and lesbian cinema occurred with the release of the British film Victim (1961). The film, directed by Basil Dearden, broke serious ground by addressing the adverse public perception of homosexuality in Britain. At the time, Britain had laws against homosexual activity, which left many gay men vulnerable to blackmail or exposure. Victim concerns a self-confessed, but non-practicing, homosexual, portrayed by Dirk Bogarde, who risks his marriage and career to track down a ring of blackmailers preying on wealthy gay men. The film is reputedly the first in Britain to use the term "homosexual"; it was initially banned in the United States simply because the word was uttered in the movie.

Although perhaps timid in its treatment of homosexuality by today's standards, Victim is, nonetheless, a very courageous film. Made in the aftermath of 1957's Wolfenden Report, which recommended that homosexual behavior between consenting adults no longer be criminalized in England, the filmmakers consciously set out to change British law and the public's perceptions of homosexuality. Six years after the film's release, the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 finally decriminalized most homosexual behavior between consenting adults over the age of 21 in England and Wales.

As political and social changes gradually took place in Europe throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the portrayal of homosexual men and women on screen became more acceptable, and brought several gay and lesbian directors and their queer-themed films to the forefront. Such directors include, among others, Italy's Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolini, Germany's Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Rosa von Praunheim, Britain's Derek Jarman, and Spain's Pedro Almodóvar.

Visconti and Pasolini

Luchino Visconti is usually credited as one of the founders of Italian Neorealism (along with Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica), with films notable for their use of nonprofessional actors and naturalistic settings. However, as his work progressed, Visconti's films became more stylized, and ultimately, more deeply personal. Openly bisexual, Visconti's films have few explicitly gay characters, although there is often an undercurrent of homoeroticism.

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