Note: This review contains many spoilers. Do not proceed unless you have no objection to having key plot points revealed!
In watching Black Orpheus, the first essential is that the viewer is familiar with the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the narrative of Orpheus descending into the underworld. In the most popular version of the story, Orpheus plays the lute and sings so beautifully that he is able to move the gods to tears. When he loses his great love Eurydice, his mournful song inspires the god Jove to let him retrieve her from the underworld, on the condition that he does not look at her until they return to the land of the living and that he may not tell Eurydice why he cannot look at her. In the Greek myth, Orpheus cannot bear to keep from looking at his love and Eurydice is lost to him forever.
Black Orpheus transposes the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the slums of Rio de Jeneiro during Carnival. Not only do the characters have the same names, they are at least marginally aware of the love story that is the basis of the legend. In the film, Eurydice has come to visit her cousin Serafina, the next door neighbor to Orpheus (Orfeu); Orpheus is a cable car conductor. Most of the thousands of people who have descended on Rio have come for Carnival; but Eurydice has come solely to escape a strange man that she believes wants to kill her. When she meets Orpheus, they immediately fall in love, despite his betrothal to the jealous Mira. What follows is more or less a faithful retelling of the myth. Eurydice’s stalker is dressed in a Carnival costume as Death. At the height of the drama, Death tricks Orpheus into accidentally killing the woman he loves. After Orpheus retrieves her body from the morgue and carries her home, Mira kills him by throwing a rock at his head; the bodies of Orpheus and Eurydice fall down a ravine and land on top of each other. There are many wonderful and subtle touches that parallel the original myth.
Of course, this would portend a most depressing tale, except that the soundtrack to the film is about 75% music and 25% dialogue. And make no mistake – it’s really about the music. The wonderfully uplifting Bossa Nova sounds of composers Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim are the real reason this film won the 1959 Grand Prize at Cannes.
I first encountered Black Orpheus about twenty years after the film’s release (1979 or so) when a friend recommended it. I acquired the popular soundtrack long before I was able to locate a screening in an arthouse, and was instantly swept away by the throbbing beat of the music chosen to represent Carnival, and the beautiful Luiz Bonfa ballad, Manha de Carnival (the Morning of the Carnival). If any musical piece could bring the gods to tears, surely this was it. In the almost forty years since, the album has continued as my favorite soundtrack and the film still offers new surprises every time I view it. Very highly recommended.
- Actors: Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn, Lourdes de Oliveira, Lea Garcia, Adhemar Da Silva
- Directors: Marcel Camus
- Format: Blu-ray, Full Screen, Multiple Formats, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language: Portuguese
- Subtitles: English
- Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
- Number of discs: 1
- Studio: Criterion Collections
- DVD Release Date: 17 Aug 2010
- Run Time: 107 minutes
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- ASIN: B003N2CVOK
Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
34,692 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- #24709 in Movies (Movies & TV)