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Do they clean the streets in Rio De Janeiro? Well, of course they do.
When this carnival is over.
And if you watch this movie you will see that they do it very near the end of the last reel, as in the morning when the truck comes round spraying water, just one of a thousand little details that director Marcel Camus got right, and one of the most insignificant. But it is from a multiplicity of detail that an edifice of cinematic genius is constructed.
The true brilliance of Black Orpheus lies in the people who live on the side of the cliffs overlooking the harbor at Rio. It is their energy that prevails. Then there is the color, the costumes, the pounding rhythms, the spectacular vitality of life that is depicted as a carnival of dance and song in which we are driven along as on a wave. And yet there is the constant reality of death. And it strikes in way we cannot comprehend, fatalistically, and we are helpless to do anything about it. And then Orpheus sings, a new Orpheus perhaps, and the sun rises again, and a little girl in white, looking like Eurydice in miniature, begins to dance as the little boy Orpheus plays his guitar, telling us that time has come round again.
Well, that's the plot as adapted by screen writer Jacques Voit from the play by Vinicius d Moraes as divined from the Greek mythology. Supporting this arresting conception is the music by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa. I recall the former as the composer of bossanova who gave us "The Girl from Ipanema" and made the samba international. Starring in the title role as the streetcar conductor who is loved by all is Beno Melo, who might be seen as the natural man and native of paradise. The very pretty Marpessa Dawn plays Eurydice, an innocent from the country who falls in love with Orpheus and his song. Lourdes de Oliveira plays his intended, Mira who is hot blooded, vital and beautifully ordinary. But the actress I recall most vividly from the time I first saw this in the sixties was Léa Garcia who played Serafina. Her exuberance and comedic flair struck me as something completely different from anybody I had ever seen before. And then there are the boys who follow Orpheus around and emulate his every move. With their torn shirts and unflagging optimism, they represent the new day that will dawn.
If you haven't seen this classic of world cinema, you are in for a singular experience. There is nothing else like it that I know of. And it is as fresh today as when it was made almost half a century ago.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If there is a film that deserves to be restored, "Orfeu Negro", seems
to be a logical choice. Judging by the copy we recently saw at New
York's Film Forum, it shows how the Eastmancolor in which it was
photographed, has faded. This is a film that is about color as seen in
that photogenic city that is Rio de Janeiro, with its infinite
cacophony of colors and sexuality at the time of carnival.
Vinicius de Moraes play, "Orfeu do Carnaval", served as the basis of inspiration for French director Marcel Camus and his co-writer, Jacques Viot, for the movie. Mr. Moraes adapted the Greek tragedy and transplanted it to Rio at the time of carnival. Nowhere in the world do people live just for those precious days of the year where everyone goes crazy during the annual ritual.
The tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice plays well against that backdrop. Orfeu, a tram conductor meets and falls in love with the beautiful an sweet Eurydice. Their love is doomed from the start because Orfeu has promised Mira he will marry her. They are seen prior to the fateful meeting going to register for a marriage license.
Eurydice has a premonition that something will happen to her as a man dressed in a death costume and mask keeps following her, and at one point, he promises the young woman, he will return for her. In the meantime, Orfeu and Eurydice realize they are meant for one another. During the parade, Serafina, Eurydice's cousin exchanges places with her so she can stay home with the merchant marine boyfriend who has just arrived. Mira realizes the deceit and fights with Eurydice, who flees in horror, only to be follow by the Death figure.
"Orfeu Negro" relied on unknowns for the main characters. The handsome Bruno Mello and the gorgeous Marpessa Dawn play the doomed lovers with conviction. Jean Bourgoin's camera loved them and they are photographed against the colors of the carnival and Rio. Lourdes Oliveira and Lea Garcia have good moments as Mira and Serafina, respectively and Jorge DosSantos is a natural as Chico.
The other best thing in the film is the fabulous music by Luiz Bonfa, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The songs and the music we hear in the soundtrack proved these two men were on the way to establish themselves as the best composers and in the case of Mr. Jobim, interpreter of their creations which will culminate with the triumph of the Bossa Nova period that was produced in Brazil at the time.
Marcel Camus, ultimately, is the man to be congratulated because of his vision in finding beauty even in the favelas where most of the action takes place in capturing the color and sensuality of Rio de Janeiro during carnival.
If it does nothing else, seeing "Black Orpheus" will make you want to
pack up immediately and go to Rio de Janeiro. The movie convinces you
that the city's sparkling harbor and dramatic green hills must be one
of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, especially when accompanied
by a soundtrack of energetic samba and smooth bossa nova music. The
cliffside shantytowns teem with vitality, and are never too poor to rig
up an elaborately costumed samba show for Carnival. Even the fact that
the movie retells a tragic Greek myth barely detracts from the overall
effect. It makes Rio seem even more magical, a place where archetypal
stories of love and death still hold their power.
In this version, Orfeu (Breno Mello) is a streetcar conductor who moonlights as a musician, and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) is an innocent country girl. The movie starts as a simple love triangle (Orfeu has an inconvenient fiancée) but becomes increasingly surreal as it progresses. Death, represented by a man in a skeleton suit, literally pursues Eurydice while going unnoticed by everyone else, who may assume he is just dressed up for Carnival. (His motivations are never explained, but perhaps he is jealous of Eurydice's youth and beauty.) The movie finds clever ways to depict the events of the original legend, and adds a wonderful sense of atmosphere, as Orfeu goes through the "underworld" in the middle of the night.
Lourdes de Oliveira and Léa Garcia give vivid supporting performances, as, respectively, Orfeu's jealous fiancée and Eurydice's exuberant cousin. I also liked the two scrappy, unsentimental street kids who idolize Orfeu.
Overall, "Black Orpheus" is a successful attempt to place a Greek myth in a modern context, retaining the story's original tragedy while adding new, contrasting flavors and rhythms. I would especially recommend it to fans of Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge," another color- and-music-saturated film with a love story inspired by the Orpheus legend.
This movie dazzles me so much that whenever I'm truly depressed, I can watch it and my mood elevates. It's hard to say what aspect is best: the cinematography is superb (makes you want to take the first plane to Rio), the cast is wonderful, the music is haunting and beautiful, and the Orpheus/Eurydice myth is well suited to the setting in a Rio favela. I've only seen it on video, but I keep hoping it will be revived somewhere so I can catch it on the big screen!
A lot of users will not believe it,but in his native France ,Marcel
Camus's name is slowly fading.Worse,"Orfeo negro" is demeaned :it is
given only one star in the French dictionary of films.Part of the
reason can be found,I think ,in the rest of Camus's career which is
mediocre and tarnished his magnum opus by association.But it's
unfair.It's a shame a lot of young FRench young people do not even know
the existence of this jewel.
"Orfeo negro" is perfection itself: -Its score is one of the most marvelous I can think of ,now stirring,now wistful as this unforgettable song to make the sun rise.
-The Greek myth is superbly recreated ,and the exotic landscapes add magic to the script.
-The actors are dynamic ;the three leads ,Breno Mello,Lourdes de OLiveira and the wunderkind Marpessa Dawn are excellent-why didn't she make the career she deserved?- -The original version is in Portuguese ,which shows Camus's respect for his audience.
-Best scenes:perhaps the scenes in the house of death,with the walk in the papers;also the final scene where children are still there ,to help the sun rise again and again.The meeting with Death in a power station.
An hymn to the sun and to immortality,"Orfeo Negro" is all this and more.
"Orfeu Negro" places the Orpheus legend in Rio de Janeiro at the time of its Carnival. Marcel Camus' film is fast paced, shot it beautiful color, has lovely and vibrant music (by Luis Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim) and a most attractive cast, particularly the two leads. There is a vital, throbbing tempo established which seems to propel the story forward in an almost choreographic manner. The film remains a quite unique piece of work, with many haunting images.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From the moment of its first appearance, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959--where it won the Palme d'Or--it was clear that Black Orpheus was a very special film. Taking the ancient Greek myth of a youth who travels to the land of the dead to bring back the woman he loves, and transporting it to the slums of modern day Rio de Janeiro, this bitter-sweet romantic tragedy has charmed audiences the world over with its beauty, color, and--above all--its music. In fact, so important is Black Orpheus' musical dimension that you might say the film's roots aren't in images but in sounds.
The first shot shows an ancient frieze of the lovers, Orpheus and Eurydice. But what grabs your attention as it hits the screen is the sound of the music playing underneath it--a guitar softly strumming the chords of the film's main musical theme. A mood of quiet reverie is created only to be shattered almost immediately as the frieze explodes before our eyes, only to be replaced by a series of fast-moving shots of dancers preparing for Carnival. But even those colorful sights are undercut by a sound that, beginning here, runs through the length of the film--the eruptive, convulsive, infectious beat of the Latin American pop sound known as "bossa nova".
Though bossa nova had been the cornerstone of Latin American music for many years, it's safe to say that prior to the release of Black Orpheus the world at large had never really heard it before. The film changed the world of music overnight. Its composers, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfá, became international stars. The film's main themes, "Manha de Carnival" and "O Nossa Amor," permeated the public consciousness in a way that hadn't been seen since Anton Karas' unforgettable zither theme for The Third Man. But make no mistake, none of these musical glories would have been possible without the film that holds them all together--Black Orpheus.
The Orpheus of myth was the son of the god Apollo and Calliope, a muse. His singing tamed wild beasts and quited raging rivers. The Orpheus of the film is a lowly streetcar conductor whose singing makes him a favorite of the slum neighborhood where he lives. The original Eurydice was likewise high-born when compared to the film's heroine--a simple country girl visiting the big city of Rio for the first time in her life. Ordinarily saddling such everyday characters with mythological barnacles would make for dramatic awkwardness. But thanks to the context of Carnival it all works perfectly. A once-a-year blowout where rich and poor alike can masquerade in whatever identities they choose, Carnival is the ideal setting for sliding a mythical mask over commonplace reality. And director Marcel Camus proves to be quite adept at juggling this balancing act between the fantastic and the real.
The figure of Death that pursues Eurydice through the streets of Rio could be the literal personification of fate--or the sort of everyday maniac found on the streets of any major city. Likewise, Eurydice's death from a streetcar cable is a neat transportation of the original legend in which she died from a serpent's bite on her leg. Best of all is the film's climax, in which Orpheus visits the underworld--here represented by Rio's Bureau of Missing Persons--and a Macumba ceremony in which he tries to make contact with his dead love. As in the legend, the story of the film ends on an unhappy note. Still this nominally sad conclusion is undercut by the spirit of the largely unprofessional cast (Breno Mello was the champion soccer player, Marcpessa Dawn a dancer from Pittsburgh); director Camus' obvious love for Rio and its people; and the joyous, rapturous, unforgettable musical score.
This is one of the only movies that has ever made me weep. It seems a little contrived in the beginning when all the characters just happen to be named after mythological characters, but by the end of the movie, one forgets all about how the movie could have been corny. It's definitely the best subtitled film I've seen, and I hope more people vote on it so that it can get on the top 250.
There are so many reasons Black Orpheus is important to cinema. First,
how many people know that prior to Marcel Camus making this film the
late Orson Welles attempted to capture Rio Carnival but with no story,
plot, or script? In 1942, Welles discovered voodoo was at the root of
the carnival samba, and started filming in the favelas, the slum shanty
towns on the hills of Rio...it was considered by Hollywood to be
anti-establishment and dangerous by Brazilian authorities. Thus, Welles
was not able to complete his film.
Samba is a Portuguese form of music, the word was derived from the West African bantu word "semba", meaning "invoke the spirit of the ancestors". Long outlawed as a dangerous expression of black slave culture, samba music eventually gained legitimacy and became a big part of carnival.
Nearly 20 years later Black Orpheus achieves what Welles was trying for and goes beyond it. To start Marcel Camus had a script to work from whereas Welles was trying to wing it on the spot. Camus successfully recreated the Orpheus-Eurydice myth using the Rio Carnival as the back drop. The main characters retain the mythological names, including the symbolic Death. This works because it is Afro-Latin culture where pagan-Christian names were more evident and because the Carnival itself was such an important part of the story. History manifests as a deja vu, a cyclical progression of event and re-incarnation, understood only by the occultic transformation of samba, trance and possession, for which the Carnival is the engine.
To those who misunderstand or are ignorant of samba, voodoo, or the Rio Carnival Black Orpheus may seem overwhelming, especially because of all the singing and dancing but samba (and Carnival) is ritual, in its most elementary form it is a raw cacophony of primitive drumming, clapping, chanting... and the droning cries of the dancers who stagger on the edge of the "stage", seeking possession and reincarnation.
Black Orpheus won the Palm d'Or in 1959 at Cannes. It was seen as progressive because it featured black actors and the pluralist culture of modern Brazil. It also gives outsiders a view inside of a ritualistic, non-Western culture and that is why it was and is so important to cinema.
Rarely have we encountered movies like this one: a timeless mythical
story from Greece brought to screen in Brazilian context, the couple
come from the very heart of Brazilian society, from Rio. Yet, what
links them is the same sweet feeling that have linked the people for
thousands of years no matter what nationality, beliefs or family
background. Yes, that is what BLACK ORFEUS offers undeniably. The great
romance that bursts out in the magnificence and lavishness of Rio's
carnival when, truly, body in dance combines with heart in love. Yet,
is that the only reason for calling this movie classic? As a matter of
fact, there have been lots of love stories on screen that were quickly
forgotten. What is, in fact, the very uniqueness of BLACK ORFEUS that
differs it from other movies and that makes it an interesting cinema
production after all these years?
We could say, though ridiculous this may seem, that it is everything about this movie that makes it a timeless work on screen. Yet, such a generalized view may, of course, result in simplification and confusion. There are specifically two factors that make BLACK ORFEUS significant or still worth attention: the first one aforementioned timeless love story uniquely and accurately put in the context of Brazil, which, in itself, must have been a challenge due to its innovative nature but the task was beautifully crafted by the director; the second being the cinematography of the movie which still, after almost 50 years, appears to be astounding. Those two aspects, for many viewers, constitute this "everything." This enthusiasm may be compared to a beautiful painting you admire thanks to its exquisiteness. In the same way, any film which has an interesting story and is visually stunning occurs to be an unforgettable work of art. And indeed, BLACK ORFEUS is a lovely visual work, the colors are stunning and the imagery is brilliant. The gorgeous views of Rio, the beautiful moments of sunrise and the charming views of little houses overwhelm even the most cynical viewers. But what about the rest?
Such aspects like performances or action cannot be analyzed in terms of modern cinema, according to what we find in the majority of Hollywood productions. Acting is superb yet their evaluation is exposed to certain opinions that not necessarily occur consistent. These are all Brazilian actors, many of whom are unexperienced when concerning "grand cinema" but this very fact appears to be beneficial for the film since their performances result in authenticity and freshness. You really have a feeling that you watch real people in the very circumstances of the carnival in Rio and their love is genuine. There is a perfect chemistry between Breno Mello as Orfeus and Marpessa Dawn as Eurydice. They beautifully fit to their roles and even their life stories proved that mysterious link. Consider that they both died the same year... Lourdes Oliveira gives rather a funny performance as Mira but is also memorable.
IL ORFEU NEGRO is a very valuable film, a sweet and authentic love story that will for long maintain in your memory as body in dance during the carnival and heart in love during romance. I highly recommend it hoping that like the song of Orfeus was capable of bringing sunrise to the world, this movie will bring in many people the rise of quest for beauty and a profound admiration of tenderness. Only then we can find simple things unusual just like the little boy who perceived his kite as the beautiful sun.
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