Black Orpheus, 1959.
Directed by Marcel Camus.
Starring Bruno Mello, Marpessa Dawn, Lourdes de Oliveira, Léa Garcia, Ademar Da Silva, and Fausto Guerzoni.
A retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, set during the time of the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.
Featuring an energetic burst of colour, vibrancy, music and dancing, Marcel Camus’ exhilarating take on the Ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is a pure joy to experience. Winner of the 1959 Academy Award for best foreign language feature as well as the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Black Orpheus (Orfeo Negro) was a huge success and created a surge in popularity for the Brazilian music style the Bossa nova. The film is filled with beautifully choreographed dance pieces and the whole picture is one of festivity and party. This enchanting energy translates wonderfully well to Blu-ray, with Criterion issuing a restored and enhanced release completely worthy of this dream of a film.
Focusing on the favelas of Rio and the upcoming famous carnaval, the film tells the story of Orfeo (Bruno Mello), a local bus driver and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) who arrives in Rio on the run from a man who is pursuing her. Orfeo, also an accomplished singer/poet and something of a ladies man, falls for Eurydice immediately and vows to protect her. In the process, he risks the anger of his quick tempered fiancee Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), a woman easily provoked and thankfully for Orfeo, also easily distracted. An even greater risk to the potential happiness of the two new lovebirds is the individual stalking Eurydice, portrayed in the film literally as Death himself. Any one who knows the original myth – and countless tragic love stories the world over – can be pretty sure this isn’t going to end too well.
But even with this figure of Death hanging around though, there is nothing remotely bleak about the picture. It is firmly optimistic, as even with the inevitability of death, life, and the dance always continues. Life affirming is a phrase seemingly created for such a film as this. Eminently beautiful and profound.
Criterion have put together a whole host of features for this release including:
New restored high definition digital transfer.
Optional English dubbed soundtrack
Archival interviews with Marcel Camus and Marpessa Dawn
New interviews with Brazilian cinema scholar Robert Stam, Jazz historian Gary Giddins and Brazilian author Ruy Castro
Looking for Black Orpheus documentary about the film’s cultural roots in Brazil and its continued relevance today.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.