Black Orpheus (1959) Poster


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Rio de Janeiro, where myths become real
marissas7530 May 2006
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.
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One of the classics of world cinema
DeeNine-224 January 2003
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!)
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Orpheus and Eurydice
jotix1002 March 2006
Warning: 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.
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David Ehrenstein's Review
aetsby4 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
(Potential 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.

--David Ehrenstein
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Body in Dance and Heart in Love
marcin_kukuczka23 November 2008
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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Take me back to Rio de Janeiro
ReneeKane11 October 1999
Truly a magical film! Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) transports you and makes you long for the Rio of the late 50s (slums and all). Marcel Camus has taken a classic tale of eternal love and transplanted it into "modern times" flawlessly. It has it all -- love, suspense, myth, music, dancing, tragedy -- set amidst the frenetic backdrop of the carnival. I'll always thank the friend who introduced me to this film.
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Voodoo and Samba as the Root of Black Orpheus
nettrice3 December 2006
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 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.
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One of the best scores ever!
dbdumonteil24 October 2005
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.
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Legend Given Unique Setting
harry-7626 March 1999
"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.
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One of my favorite movies!
mizkwebb31 August 1999
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!
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a brilliant film with music that made Bonfa famous
andrfenlon1 April 2001
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.
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Beautiful, innocent and sad; and with a great score
Terrell-425 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Morning, such a pretty morning. A new song is born, Singing of your eyes, your laughter, your hands. There will be a day when you come From the strings of my guitar That only your love sought. A voice comes and talks about kissing, Kisses lost in your lips. Sing, my heart, happiness is back In the dawn of this love."

And so Orpheus (Breno Mello), a happy-go-lucky trolley conductor in Rio de Janeiro, and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), a young girl from the country who has come to stay with her cousin in a Rio slum high on a mountain overlooking the city, fall in love. Please note that elements of the plot are discussed. Orpheus is handsome, confident and loves women as much as they love him. When he discovers Eurydice, however, she becomes all he has ever wanted. But Eurydice, caught up in her joy with Orpheus, still is frightened of a man masked as Death who she is convinced intends to kill her. But carnival is starting. There are costumes to buy and masks to wear, dancing to practice, life to be enjoyed. Through it all, the hot, sensual bossa nova beat of Antonio Carlos Jobin's and Luis Bonfa's music permeates everything.

The movie is so lyrical, so innocent and so joyous as it starts that it's easy to hope that in this version of the Greek myth there will be a different ending. There is not. But the intensity of carnival carries us along. The happiness and spirit of the friends and neighbors of Orpheus captures us just as much as the music. The almost child-like passion of Orpheus and Eurydice is so open and true, we realize that it can't last.

One of the most lyrical passages is early in the movie when Orpheus begins to play on his guitar a song he has written. Two scruffy little boys are with him. They believe Orpheus can make the dawn come by playing his guitar at daybreak. As Orpheus plays, one boy holds a baby goat and the other a rooster to keep them quiet. "Morning, such a pretty morning, a new song is born..." Orpheus sings. Next door, Eurydice hears him and stops to listen. In that moment the myth becomes a real thing. And Orpheus, after he and Eurydice have slept the night together, sings another song while Eurydice dreams on...

"My happiness is dreaming in the eyes of my lover. It's like this night, passing, Seeking the dawn. Speak low, please, So she might wake up happy, Offering a kiss of love. Sadness has no end. Happiness does. Happiness is like a drop of dew on a flower's petal, Brilliant and tranquil, then grieving, Then falling like a tear of love."

Then carnival arrives, and so does Death. At the end of the movie Orpheus and Eurydice are joined for eternity. On the mountain top as dawn breaks, the two little boys bring the new sun as one plays Orpheus' guitar and Orpheus' song "...Morning, such a pretty morning. A new song is born..." They are joined by a little girl, dressed in white, who begins to dance around them, and they join her.

At this point, I didn't know whether to smile or cry. I think I did both.
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One of My Favorites
skolto13 March 2002
I love this movie for its incredibly gorgeous music, actors and landscapes. The children are delightful and natural. There are scenes that will make you cry. To see the movie on the big screen in the original Portuguese is heavenly.
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must see
tday-115 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I usually don't go for art films but I'm a fan of Greek Mythology so this had an interesting twist to it. It's definitely a movie u have to watch with no interruptions,the pulsating music and spirited performances move u along swiftly to the inevitable sad climax. The cast is all newcomers and do very well in their roles. It's fascinating to see the poverty of Rio but the carnival lifts everybody up like a religious experience and provides an escape from their dreary lives. The photography is first rate. Supposedly some of the Carnival footage is from a film Orson Welles shot in 1941 called It's All True but he was so long shooting it,RKO cancelled the production. The director of Orpheous staged a fake carnival on a side street in the Rio slums with 200 extras,much to his delight the entire neighborhood got excited about filming and the crowd swelled to 20,000,making it a really lavish spectacle,complete with dancing and costumes. The Criterion DVD has great sound and color. I usually like to use the subtitles but for some resin they don't match the English soundtrack so it's best to leave it off,unless u want to hear the original Portugese.
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Unique -- nor masterpiece
dthompson-104 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a film that gets better as it goes along. It starts out working too hard to show how colorful and full of life the Brazilians are. This was directed by a Frenchman, and although it is sympathetic to its subjects, there's a tinge of condescension as well. This fades into the background as the plot kicks in.

The film is a retelling of the Orpheus myth-- does the film achieve mythic power? Not quite, but it comes a lot closer than you would be expecting from the beginning of the film. The film tries to answer the question of whether there is value in trying to be happy when happiness will be destroyed, and what-- if anything-- is left when that happens. The words of the ultra-famous bossa nova song Tristeza ('sadness') asks, and tries to answer, this question as it recurs throughout the film.

The acting is uneven, but ultimately effective at convincing us of the emotions that matter most in this film: love, fear, and loss. That the protagonists are physically beautiful helps them bear the burden of being myth-figures: that, and the fact that they don't try to "act mythical".

The film's use of the Orpheus myth is not at all subtle. But the performance of Mello as Orpheu gains depth as the character's dogged refusal to believe he has lost Eurydice carries him through the "underworld" of Rio in search of her. And I was moved by the ending, as Orpheu tries to invoke the blessings of a new day to keep his hope and his love alive.

I haven't seen another film quite like this one-- I think this is reason enough to see it. The music is great of course, and it's interesting to see a Carnival of Rio back when it was still an event for ordinary people: now it's an international tourist event. Enjoy!
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A haunting, lovely film
issues-124 October 2004
Black Orpheus

I saw this film for the first time in the '60s and found it a beautiful

and poignant retelling of the legend. I thought about it off and on

over the years, however, since it was never shown on TV, it faded

from memory. Then in the 1980s, there it was in video format in a

store. It was very expensive (the most I've paid for one), but I was

so delighted to find it, I could hardly wait to get it home.

It was more beautiful and haunting than I remembered. There's a

special uniqueness in the way the inexorable tragedy plays out in

such an unorthodox setting. You know how it has to end, but you're

still drawn into the lives of the characters. How the director ever

conceived of something so original amazes me.

This film is a wonderful experience.
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Black Orpheus, modern masterpiece
degatina1 February 2006
Black Orpheus is one of the truly great movies, and may be considered as part of the heritage of every true movie lover. The setting of the Orpheus story in the hillsides and streets of Rio, with the brilliant actors, is nothing short of a miracle. Everything in the movie is beautiful to look at, and the music becomes as much a part of the atmosphere as the very air these beautiful actors breathe. The final scene, with the children, being magically prepared to fall into the roles the adults have just left, must remain with the viewer as one of the most affecting things in this magnificent movie. Do yourself a great favor, and see it.
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A happy marriage of greek myths with bossa-nova
massimo19433 September 2001
If you have not been in Rio yet, do not expect you will be able to see the city shown in this movie ; it is gone forever. But the favelas are still there and it is not unrealistic to believe that small and big tragedies like the one of Orfeo and Eurydice, sometimes with a little bit of afro-american magics, take place everyday in the outskirts of the "cidade maravilhosa". Music and poetry of Vinicius de Moraes are already immortal and need only to be listened in the concentration deserved by every masterpiece
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Gritty, but endearing. Masterfully conceived.
phatdan28 March 2008
I became familiar with international films back in the 1960's watching L.A. television. Most were dubbed in English. Unfortunately, the original English language version for this film is no longer to be had. An English language version exists on DVD now, but the music sound quality isn't great. Best to watch this beauty with English subtitles.

And music is what makes this love story great. Orpheus learns the meaning of true love with his neighbor's cousin, Eurydice, amid the relentless rhythms of Rio's Carnival.

The film is a bit artsy. Of course, a film seen dozens of times is vulnerable to scrutiny. However, the images burst with the natural color and beauty of Rio.

It was obvious that the intention of the makers was to contrast the genuine happiness that can be discovered in human affection with the short-lived, superficial pleasure found in Carnival.

The ceremony to evoke the dead was most likely authentic. If not, it was over-the-top, conceptually. The mixing of real and contrived imagery was superbly achieved.

Black Orpheus is a timeless, cinematic treasure.
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Required Viewing 101
Richard_vmt24 April 2008
Black Orpheus is great entertainment as well as a classic, but for me it also calls into question cultural history as we know it. It is unexplainable how a film so far above the level of the culture of 1959 could exist. It is like the Pyramids.

Part of the answer of course is it is not an American film. In a year that brought an academy award with Ben Hur, a corny Roman epic, The Nun's Story, Porgy and Bess and Some Like It Hot, there could be film so far above the fray as Black Orpheus. That's what a classic is, but what a classic!

Black Orpheus is not about racism, American or otherwise. It has nothing to do with race. Race is swept off the board in one sweep by the fact that there is no white person in the film. It takes place in the heart of Rio in a place where white culture is simply non-existent so far as the film is concerned. Nor is it a coy, self-conscious effort to elevate blacks by producing an all-black film, but it simply is a product of the culture it depicts. And just as simply it excels and out distances other films being produced in the same decade not just quantitatively. It makes me think that the producers were entirely above in sophistication, like the Titans or the Illuminati.

The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is enacted against the backdrop of the primitive energy of Carnivale, but backdrop is the wrong word. It is the music, the rhythm of Carnival,its primitivity, which enables the myth of Opheus to once again spring into reality.

Anyone who enters the theater prepared for a didactic treatment about race will leave cleansed by the film's innocence of such issues.
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Just stunning
preppy-316 April 2006
The Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice updated to Rio de Janeiro of 1959 during carnival. It's shot in bright color and is subtitled. Orpheus (Breno Mello) is being pushed into marriage by beautiful but dangerous Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). Then he meets sweet innocent Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) and falls in love. But Death is stalking Eurydice and Mira will kill to get Orpheus...

I only know the bare facts of the Greek legend and I think you DO need some knowledge of it to totally enjoy the film...but maybe not. The film is bursting with energy...there is virtual nonstop music and some of the most incredible dancing I've ever seen in a film. What's most pleasing about this film is seeing a community of black Porteguese men and women who are always there for each other and always happy and dancing. It may not be realistic but it fits the movie perfectly. Mello and Dawn are both attractive with great bodies and make a very likable couple. de Oliveira is downright frightening as Mira...and the appearance of Death (a man in a skintight black costume with a skull mask) is actually quite scary. But it's the music and dancing that propels this takes up a great part of it and you can't take your eyes off the screen! Towards the end I actually caught myself sort of "dancing" in my seat bopping to the music! The film does drag down a little at the end when a character dies and a strange (and dull) voodoo ceremony is thrown in...but this is a small complaint. A riveting beautiful film--I've been lucky enough to see it twice in a theatre. I give it a 9.
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Still one of the best !
GBIRD22 March 2001
After viewing thousands of movies over my lifetime I still consider "Black Orpheus" one of the best. Not only an ancient Greek tragedy but a tale of life, love and fate. As an artist, I consider this a movie of rare beauty. Excellent photography. I highly recommend.
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Brazil continues to rise
lee_eisenberg30 December 2009
Brazil's election as host of the 2016 Olympics creates a really big reason to watch Marcel Camus's "Orfeo Negro" ("Black Orpheus" in English). I had never known the Orpheus myth until I saw this film, and what a way to learn it! Of course the movie's main pleasure is to see Carnaval. In this version, Rio de Janeiro conductor Orpheus (Bruno Mello) falls in love with country woman Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), but can't forget his relationship with Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). The bossa nova soundtrack is like a character by itself. To be certain, Antonio Carlos Jobim is best known for "Girl from Ipanema".

All in all, this is a truly fine experience. As it turns out, Barack Obama's mother Ann Dunham saw "Black Orpheus" in the theater - before she met Barack Sr. - and it was her first real exposure to black culture.

Really great.
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Precious tracery
Vincentiu7 January 2007
Music, Carnaval and love story. All in a mythical Brasil, in soft pagan shadows and old Greek memory. A gentle film about desire and hate, about revenge and death.

A marvelous film thanks to the precision of details. The soul of ancient tragedy is present. The Latino hubbub, with pre- Christian rites and images inebriation is present too and the movie is result of this subtle fight and wonderful completion.

It is hard to define a film of this category. Artistic value is part of scenes in personal past and the film is only ladder for a golden age space. So, the gifts of "Orfeu Negro" is perfect refinement, the delicate acting.

"Black Orpheus" is a precious tracery about human condition.
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BLACK ORPHEUS (Marcel Camus, 1959) **1/2
Bunuel197618 December 2006
I had first watched this subtitled in French following my second viewing of Jean Cocteau's seminal masterwork ORPHEUS (1950); both these factors contributed to my being let down by the film, so I was anxious to give it a second - and proper - viewing.

Still, I might go so far as to say that I liked it even less this time around: while the Rio Carnival certainly offers the tragic love story of Orpheus and Eurydice a vivid and uniquely offbeat - if relentlessly noisy - backdrop, there's simply too much local color here (the non-stop dancing is particularly grating) proceeding to rather overwhelm the plot itself...which is what drew me to it in the first place! In fact, the figure of Death which pursues Eurydice doesn't turn up until 40 minutes into the film; its intermittent appearances create some genuine tension here, particularly the superbly-lit scene by the trains where Death finally catches up with its prey - through the unwitting aid of Orpheus himself!

The latter stages see Orpehus searching for his beloved in the 'netherworld' - stumbling, at long last, on a (rather embarrassing) séance where she speaks to him through an old woman in a trance but, as legend has it, he's not content with just hearing her voice and so ends up losing her forever. The final scene, too, is great: Orpheus has reclaimed Eurydice's body, but his going back to 'reality' and the general hubbub of the Carnival (which, given the debris, the flames and the highstrung appearance of Orpheus's former girl, seems to have turned violent in the couple's absence) results in his own unfortunate death; all is not lost, however, as the kids who hang around him throughout the film seem to have finally acquired his unique 'gift' of making the sun rise with the power of guitar playing!

While undeniably interesting in itself and occasionally powerful, BLACK ORPHEUS is no match for the intellectual but totally fascinating poetic touch rendered the tale in Cocteau's definitive version (with which I hope to re-acquaint myself in the near future via the British Film Institute's R2 SE DVD that I purchased recently).

P.S. It seems incredible to me that BLACK ORPHEUS not only won the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar but the Palme D'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival - where it was competing against such superior films as Luis Bunuel's NAZARIN, Alain Resnais' Hiroshima MON AMOUR and Francois Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS! For the record, the jury members for that particular year included directors Michael Cacoyannis and Julien Duvivier, producer Carlo Ponti and Hollywood star Gene Kelly!!
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