Friday, August 1, 2014

Jean Cocteau in Villefranche-sur-Mer

I am a huge fan of the work of Jean Cocteau and I was thrilled to be able to visit his exquisite Chapelle Saint-Pierre in the lovely village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, a vertical village located on the French Riviera.

Cocteau first came to Villefranche-sur-Mer in 1925 and spent a prolonged visit at the Hotel Welcome in order to kick his opium addiction. Across the street from the Welcome was a tiny little chapel, right on the bay, dating from the late 1500s. By the time Cocteau encountered it, it was a storage room for fishermen's nets because of its convenient location right next to the boats. He fell in love with Villefranche and lobbied the local government for permission to transform the chapel-cum-storage room back into a chapel. He gained permission in 1957 and set about painting the façade of the building and creating magical murals on the inside.

Since photography inside the chapel is forbidden, here are a few scans of some of the post cards on sale inside. The breathtaking murals which cover every surface inside the chapel depict scenes from the life of St. Peter (Pierre), patron saint of fishermen.

To the left of the chapel (if you are standing facing it) is a plinth with a bust of Cocteau sculpted by Cyril de La Patellière, and a plaque with Cocteau's words, "Quand je regarde Villefranche, je voir ma jeunesse, fassent les hommes qu’elle ne change jamais" ("When I see Villefranche, I see my youth. May men make sure it never changes.")

And up the stairs from the docks toward the old village is rue Obscure, or "the hidden road" which is a Medieval passage once part of the original rampart of the walls that protected Villefranche. It was an open parapet until it was enclosed and built over by buildings during the next hundred years or so. It served as a mysterious location for scenes in Cocteau's last film, "The Testament of Orpheus." As part of an Artist's Walk, there is a ground plaque of a piece of art by Cocteau showing the rue Obscure with the words from his memorial by the St. Pierre Chapelle.

Cocteau's influence is still felt in Villefranche: floating among the boats next to the St. Pierre Chapelle, I noticed a vessel named for one of Cocteau's greatest films, "Orphée," in Cocteau's handwriting!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just been to Villefranche myself and enjoyed your blog very much! Thanks.