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Black Orpheus (1959) - Plot Summary Poster

(1959)

Plot

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Summaries

  • In the heady atmosphere of Rio's carnival, two people meet and fall in love. Eurydice, a country girl, has run away from home to avoid a man who arrived at her her looking for her. She is convinced that he was going to kill her. She arrives in Rio to stay with her cousin Serafina. Orfeo works as a tram conductor and is engaged to Mira - as far as Mira is concerned anyways. As Eurydice and Orpheus get to know one another they fall deeply in love. Mira is mad with jealousy and when Eurydice disappears, Orfeo sets out to find her.

  • In Rio, Orfeo is a trolley conductor and musician, engaged to Mira. During Carnival week, he sees Eurydice, who's fled her village in fear of a stalker; it's love at first sight. Her cousin Sarafina, with whom she stays in Rio, is a friend of Orfeo and Mira, so the star-crossed lovers meet again. Later, during the revels, wearing Sarafina's costume, Eurydice dances a provocative samba with Orfeo. Not only is Mira enraged when her rival is unmasked, but she is being stalked by Death: Eurydice is in danger, pursued through noisy crowds and a morgue. Can Orfeo conduct her to safety? Don't look back.

  • A retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, set during the time of the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In Rio, a group of black men playing musical instruments shimmies its way past a bunch of women carrying containers on their heads. Carnival is approaching. Serafina (Léa Garcia), a black woman, runs to the edge of a cliff and looks into the distance.

    On a river, a boat crowded with boogieing black people reaches land. A blind man steps off of the boat, bumping into Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) as she gazes at the water. He frightens her. He gives her a yellow lei to help her forget about it. She offers to help him around. He says that he knows Rio well and will manage.

    Eurydice leaves the blind man, stepping past a few dancing people. She passes merchants selling goods and more dancers. Eurydice reaches a barer part of the city, and is met by a trolley conducted by Orfeu (Breno Mello), who whistles at her and tells her to come aboard. Then, a different man grabs her and she jumps onto the moving vehicle.

    Orfeu stops the trolley at the end of the line. A man named Hermes (Alexandro Constantino) asks him if he's going to get his paycheck. Orfeu notices Eurydice sitting alone in the back of the streetcar and calls out to her. She doesn't know her way around. Orfeu calls Hermes to help her find her way to her cousin's house, then steps to a window and gets his paycheck from a man. A woman named Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), crossing a road, calls out to Orfeu. Hermes asks Eurydice if she's going to Carnival. She says no. He tells her that she'll end up going and how to get to it.

    Orfeu asks Eurydice as she walks away if she got directions. She says yes. Mira asks him why he's giving Eurydice so much attention, and reminds him that they are going to get a marriage license. Orfeu and Mira tread on.

    Mira and Orfeu enter a government building and she tells him to fix his clothes. Orfeu tells an official at a desk that he and Mira are getting married. The official asks Orfeu his name. Orfeu answers and the official responds that the bride's name must be Eurydice. "Orpheus loves Eurydice," the man says, "Everyone knows that." When Mira asks what this is about, the official replies he was referencing an old story.

    Outside the government building, Brazilian music is being played and Mira dances heartily to it. She draws close to Orfeu and asks him if he's going to buy her a ring, since they're engaged. Orfeu answers that he has to get his guitar out of hock with Carnival coming tomorrow. He tells Mira to get her own ring since he has no money; Mira tells Orfeu she can loan him some for one.

    At the pawn shop, Orfeu is given his guitar. He plays it a bit, then is bumped by a man carrying a phonograph. The man says that the shop's workers aren't interested in his phonograph and has Orfeu hold it for him. Orfeu tells the man that he's onto him. The man says he needs 100 cruzeiros for Carnival, so Orfeu gives them to him. The man gives Orfeu the phonograph, but takes its horn part with him, pretending to blow through it. Orfeu runs into Mira, who tells him he got a good deal. She shows him a ring on her hand, telling him that he owes her 110 bucks.

    In her house, Serafina examines a pretty dress. A merchant comes to her window, offering her bread. Serafina says she spent all of her money on her costume for Carnival. There's a knock at her door. She answers it and finds Eurydice outside. Serafina lets her in, saying she thought it was Chico Boto, her boyfriend, at the door. Serafina asks Eurydice if she came for Carnival. Eurydice says that she ran away for fear of a man who came to her farm and chased her. Eurydice believes the man wants to kill her. Serafina asks her if he knows she's with her. Eurydice says no. Serafina tells her to rid him from her mind, remarking that she must be hungry. Neither of them has any money, but Serafina tells Eurydice that "the Portugese grocer will do anything for a kiss."

    Outside, the two women run across a group of musicians playing instruments, and Serafina dances with Zeca, a boy who shakes a tamborine. Eurydice meets another boy, Benedito, who gives her an amulet. Eurydice says she will keep it forever. Benedito asks her, "Even after I die?" Serafina tells him to run along, and the women make their way to the grocer's place of business.

    Eurydice and Serafina get to the grocer's place and the latter woman puts her hands over his eyes from behind. He immediately says that this woman, not knowing who she is, is going to ask him for credit. He doesn't want to give Serafina and Eurydice a break, but after they both kiss him, he looks eager to help them. The grocer mentions a lighter-complexioned black woman's man. Another woman nearby tells her that some women are smarter than she is -- to which she replies, "I don't care." Serafina says if this man is getting married, it's too bad for him. The woman who mentioned some women being "smarter" than others says that the lucky couple is coming their way. Serafina tells Eurydice to take whatever groceries she wants and joins the couple: Mira and a guitar-toting Orfeu.

    Serafina confronts Orfeu, asks him if he's getting married, then goes to Mira, hugging her in an effort to distract her from what Orfeu is doing. Orfeu joins the lighter-skinned woman, whom he clearly knows, then he leaves, saying he has to tune his guitar for rehearsal.

    Orfeu steps into Serafina's house and tunes his guitar. Zeca and Benedito step inside. The latter boy asks Orfeu if he can make the sun rise tomorrow by playing his guitar. Orfeu agrees to this, since it will be Carnival. Zeca says he'd love to make the sun rise, so Benedito tells Orfeu to lend him his guitar so he can make a melody. Orfeu says no, explaining that the guitar is very old, pointing out where it says "Orfeu is my master" on it. Orfeu says there was an Orpheus before him, and there may be another when he is gone, but for now, he is the guitar's boss.

    Orfeu tells the boys not to be sad, and starts performing for them a song he just wrote. As he does, Eurydice steps into the house through a different door. She dances to Orfeu's song. Orfeu notices two women fighting outside through a window and tells the boys to take his guitar, insisting that they didn't see him. Orfeu runs out of the building, where he can watch what happens next through a window. The two women step into the house, asking where Orfeu is. Zeca tells them that he left with another woman, and they leave. Zeca plays Orfeu's guitar.

    Orfeu notices Eurydice and asks her what she's doing there, then realizes that her aforementioned cousin is Serafina. He says that they are already close friends. She reminds him that her name is Eurydice, and he brings up the story that "Orpheus loves Eurydice." Orfeu tells her to remember the tale of how thousands of years ago, Orpheus was sad, but one day, a voice spoke to him of Eurydice's lost kisses. Orfeu starts to kiss Eurydice, but she pushes him away. He responds that she's "too young to remember." But she says she remembers, and it was the melody of his singing that she liked best of all. She steps outside and Orfeu follows her to where she sits. Orfeu puts his hand on Eurydice's hand, telling her to forgive him. He places his head on her hand and they share a tender moment.

    The boys rejoin Orfeu and tell him people are waiting for him at rehearsal. He tells Eurydice he has to go. Orfeu says he'll perform for her, asking her if she'll come to Carnival. She says she will. Orfeu leaves with one of the boys, carrying his guitar.

    At rehearsal that night, scores of people dance to exhilarating music, including Mira, Serafina, Zeca, and Orfeu. It's a joyful celebration. Mira asks Orfeu why he's not paying attention to her, and he responds that he has no time for her. Eurydice, standing by Benedito, watches Orfeu. Eurydice asks Benedito who Mira is; he says she's Orfeu's fiancée. Eurydice is dismayed by this information. Orfeu asks Mira and Serafina if they've tried on their costumes, and the women head off together.

    Orfeu sees Eurydice sitting down, and invites her into the crowd. They dance fervently with each other. Orfeu pulls Eurydice out of the dancers' area into a room where women work to give her a costume. Serafina steps into the room, and Orfeu says he wants a nice costume for Eurydice. Serafina says that he doesn't know her. Serafina realizes Orfeu is in love with Eurydice, and tells the women to leave Eurydice to her. As Orfeu starts to depart, Zeca tells him that a man is looking for Eurydice.

    Serafina tells Zeca to tell the man Eurydice is gone. Zeca walks off. Serafina screams as she sees Death (Ademar Da Silva), a man standing outside the place's window in a skeleton costume. Eurydice says, "It's him," as he leaves. Mira steps into the room. Eurydice runs off, and Mira asks what happened. Serafina says her cousin Eurydice is scared, as Orfeu chases after her. Mira asks, "Her name's Eurydice?" then Serafina pursues her cousin. Mira runs to the window as Orfeu heads to it outside, carrying a bloodied Benedito. The boy says he followed the costumed man, who threw him to the ground, then escaped.

    Orfeu puts Benedito down and steps outside. He's stopped by Mira, who asks him who Eurydice is and if they had an affair. He tells her to let him pass; she orders him to stay and he says no. Mira says, "If you go . . . ," but doesn't finish her thought. Orfeu follows Eurydice.

    Eurydice runs to Serafina's house, looks into it, and keeps fleeing. Chico Boto gets up in a bed inside of it, wondering if Serafina has come home. Serafina arrives next, looking around the place, then Chico scares her from behind. Serafina asks Chico where her cousin went, explaining she must find her; he says that he came from Montevideo to see her and Orfeu runs in, looking for Eurydice. Chico points him in the right direction and Orfeu heads off.

    Eurydice rushes into a cul-de-sac and is cornered by Death. She pounds on a wall, then Orfeu leaps down between her and Death. The man tries to trip Orfeu, who pulls out a knife. Eurydice warns Orfeu, "He'll kill you," then faints, falling into his arms. Death tells Orfeu that they'll meet again and departs.

    Orfeu carries Eurydice back to Serafina's house where roosters and dogs walk around freely. Orfeu notes that Chico showed up and asks Eurydice if she'd like to stay there. She says yes. Orfeu states that Eurydice need not be frightened. A dog noisily pulls at a piece of fabric in Orfeu's hand, and Serafina calls to him from another room, sitting beside Chico. Serafina listens through the wall to figure out what's going on in the next room. Serafina says her cousin is in good hands. Chico asks if Eurydice ran away. Serafina tells Chico to open his mouth and close his eyes. She slams a thick slice of watermelon that she's been feeding him into his mouth, sending juice flying everywhere.

    While Serafina and Chico fight in the other room, Orfeu and Eurydice enjoy each others' company until he announces that he's going outside to sleep. The ruckus in the next room ends with Serafina and Chico going to bed. Orfeu whistles outside in a hammock, then Eurydice beckons him to come inside with her.

    The next morning, Benedito knocks on the outside wall of Zeca's house to wake him up, saying it's time. Zeca grabs Orfeu's guitar and sneaks out of the house to join him. The two boys go to Serafina's house, where Orfeu gazes at a sleeping Eurydice. Orfeu sees one of the boys put the guitar into the room through a door. The two boys go to look at the sun as they hear Orfeu singing a song to Eurydice, whom he awakens. The sun rises on the horizon.

    Later that day, a costumed Mira greets Serafina, who tells her that she's tending to Chico. Serafina goes to her house and finds Orfeu and Eurydice standing together behind a wall. Serafina tells Eurydice to get her costume on, saying that Mira is on her way to the house. Orfeu declares he's in no hurry. The two women go into the house and Serafina puts on her costume, which includes a veil over her face. Serafina says Carnival is fun, but she'd like to be with Chico since he's leaving tomorrow, while Eurydice states that she'd rather dance with Orfeu. Outside, Mira calls to Orfeu to open the door to his room. Serafina asks Eurydice if she'd like to dance in her place, putting her veil over Eurydice's head.

    Orfeu lets Mira into his room. He is disinterested in her and this annoys her. Mira notices a scarf that Orfeu wears and asks him about it. He explains that it's covered with signs of the zodiac. Mira asks Orfeu if the girl next door, meaning Eurydice, took him to Heaven last night. Orfeu continues ignoring her, and Mira tears up the scarf. The two argue, and Mira threatens to kill Eurydice if she sees her with Orfeu again. Benedito and Zeca enter the room, saying that they came to help Orfeu carry part of his costume. Mira leaves them alone. In the next room, Eurydice asks Serafina if it was Mira shouting in the next room. Eurydice says Orfeu promised he'd talk to Mira about what's happened.

    Serafina tells Eurydice to pull the veil she wears down over her face, as Mira calls to her from outside. Serafina wakes up Chico, explains to him that Eurydice is her now, and tells him to kiss Eurydice just outside her front door. Chico does as he's told. Outside, Mira walks with a bunch of costumed people to Carnival along with Orfeu. Orfeu tells Benedito to ask Serafina (whom he mistakes Eurydice for) if Eurydice is coming; Benedito goes to Eurydice, who raises her veil and says her identity is a secret only Orfeu can know. Benedito goes to tell Orfeu the secret. They are trailed by Eurydice.

    On Rio's streets, revelers are everywhere, dancing rhythmic steps in elaborate costumes, singing, and pounding out music with instruments. Mira dances in one of the throngs. Another woman tells Mira to look at Serafina, so she turns toward the veiled Eurydice -- who dances with Orfeu. Mira flashes them a jealous look. Orfeu and Eurydice tell each other, "I love you." Moments later, Mira asks Orfeu if he loves her and he rebuffs her, saying that he meant to explain something to her. He tells Mira, "Now it's too late," dancing with Eurydice some more. Serafina and Chico watch the dancing couple from nearby. Benedito and Zeca see Death overseeing the celebration from atop a platform.

    Eurydice loses her amulet and it's grabbed by Benedito. Mira asks Orfeu why he chose Serafina to dance with him and he rejects her again, going to the jury stand. Mira angrily looks around. Serafina, seeing this, tries to hide her face behind a fabric that Chico wears on his head. Mira goes to Eurydice, yanks up her veil, and sees her true identity. Mira shoves Eurydice to the ground. Serafina yells to Chico that they need to help Eurydice, but a security guard blocks them.

    Eurydice runs from Mira as the festivities go on around them. Orfeu hands a flag to someone on the jury stand. Mira yells that she'll kill Eurydice and yanks a handhold with spiked ends from a platform, chasing her through the crowd with it.

    The fleeing Eurydice falls into Death's arms, then sees who's holding her. She runs away, then Mira is caught by the man, who forces her to drop the handhold before she spits in his face. Death throws Mira to the ground.

    A terrified Eurydice is stopped by Hermes, the guard from the trolley station. Hermes tells her to go to his house, saying that he'll tell Orfeu what's going on. She does as Hermes says. Death follows her.

    Eurydice makes her way to the dark trolley station. She sees Death and runs deeper into the area, evading him as she climbs some stairs to a platform. Death climbs a rope after Eurydice. She takes a leap, grabbing hold of an electrical wire for support. Orfeu runs into the yard, calling for Eurydice. He goes to an electrical board and turns on a switch, sending electricity through the wire and accidentally electrocuting Eurydice.

    Orfeu runs to Eurydice's corpse, then Death leaps in front of him, saying, "She's mine now." Death hurls Orfeu to the ground, knocking him unconscious.

    Moments later, an ambulance drives through the partying crowd, with Death riding on its side. Hermes and Benedito stand beside the out cold Orfeu as a man wipes his face. Orfeu wakes up and runs to where Eurydice was. Hermes tells him that she's dead, and the other man says she was taken to the morgue.

    Orfeu gets to the hospital, asking at a counter for some information. A man at the counter ignores Orfeu, who searches around. Orfeu sees a blue veil that resembles the one Eurydice wore earlier, jutting from an elevator door. He runs up several flights of stairs, still hoping to see her alive. Orfeu sees someone being carried by two nurses, yells at them to stop, and goes to them. Alas, the person is not Eurydice; the nurses tell Orfeu to leave. He exits the hospital, trudging away with Benedito, who tells him not to be sad.

    Orfeu shows up in front of a police building, and is recognized by a policeman who asks him to sing and dance. Orfeu is far too depressed to oblige the officer. The policeman directs Orfeu to the missing persons door of the building.

    Orfeu exits an elevator on the building's twelfth floor which is quiet and empty, and asks if anyone is there. A janitor asks Orfeu what he's looking for. The janitor tells him that there's no one in the missing persons office, only stacks of paper. The janitor asks Orfeu if he's in pain, and Orfeu answers that he is after losing Eurydice. The janitor tells him to call out to her. Orfeu says he's been doing that. The janitor leads Orfeu down a staircase.

    At the ground floor, the two men exit the building, coming to a gate guarded by a dog named Cerberus. Benedito follows them to the fence, but is scared by Cerberus and runs away. The janitor shows Orfeu into a building where an Umbanda ritual takes place with numerous black people. The janitor tells Orfeu to sing and call out to Eurydice, so Orfeu does. A voice speaks out and Orfeu recognizes it as Eurydice's. She tells him he must not look back, or he'll never see her again.

    Eurydice's voice says that she's getting closer, asking Orfeu if he loves her enough to hear her voice but not see her. He replies that his arms are empty. Orfeu says she's not there and is tricking him. We see that Eurydice's voice is coming from an old woman who is taking part in the ritual. Orfeu repeats that he wants to see Eurydice. The voice from the old woman replies that Orfeu is killing her. Orfeu looks back to the old woman, who says, "Farewell, Orfeu. You'll never see me again." Orfeu grabs the woman, angrily shaking her and feeling that she lied to him. Against the janitor's protest, Orfeu runs out of the building.

    Not far away, Orfeu lies on the ground, where he's found by Benedito and Hermes. Orfeu slowly gets up and says, "I have nothing left to live for. I'm poorer than the poorest of black men." Hermes hands Orfeu a piece of paper, who thanks him. Hermes tells him to save his thanks for Eurydice.

    Orfeu faces a man in a morgue who asks him if he'll take Eurydice's body. Without being told, the man understands that Orfeu will and leads him to a room. Orfeu lifts a sheet off of a body and sees that it's Eurydice. Orfeu kisses the corpse, carrying it away. By voice over, Orfeu thanks Eurydice for this moment. Orfeu carries Eurydice's body to a faraway cliff, and then, he sings by voice over.

    Orfeu stops moving as he sees from not too far a group of people shouting and dancing around a fire. One of the people, Mira, runs toward Orfeu, saying that she'll kill him. Orfeu backs up and Mira, trailed by Serafina, hurls a stone at him, hitting him in the head. Orfeu falls backwards off of the edge, and his and Eurydice's bodies roll down the cliff, before stopping in a huge plant's growth, both of them dead. Mira's horrified to see this.

    Benedito runs near another cliff, carrying Orfeu's guitar and yelling to Zeca to hurry up. Benedito tells Zeca to play the guitar and make the sun rise, urging him to make something up. Zeca takes the guitar and plays a lively melody. A small girl joins the two boys, saying that Zeca made the sun rise. The girl tells Zeca that he is Orfeu now, telling him to play a song for her, so he does. The girl dances around, then Benedito and Zeca join her in fast dancing, while Zeca goes on playing the guitar.

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