Black Orpheus (1959)

black orpheus poster 1959 orfeo negro
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great telling of a classic myth


Movie Info

Movie Name:   Black Orpheus

Studio:   Dispat Films

Genre(s):   Romance/Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s):   June 12, 1959

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

black orpheus carnival eurydice death marpessa dawn adhemar da silva

You can’t escape Death

It is carnival season, and trolley operator Orpheus (Breno Mello) is preparing to marry Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira).  Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) has run away from her home with fears that a suitor wants to kill her and come to Rio de Janeiro to stay with her cousin Serafina (Léa Garcia).  When Orpheus and Eurydice meet, a spark ignites which seems to be as old as the legend of Orpheus itself…but Eurydice is still pursued by death, and a simple songwriter might not have the power to save her.

Directed by Marcel Camus, Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) is a romantic fantasy based upon the ancient myth of Orpheus and the 1956 Brazilian play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes.  The film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 1959 and also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.  A remastered version of the movie was released by Criterion (Criterion #48).

black orpheus ending eurydice dead marspessa dawn breno mello

Wow…that was some Carnival. It’s going to be hard to top next year.

I love mythology and the tale of Orpheus is one that has been told and retold.  Black Orpheus follows in the path of the retelling but does it in a way that is both beautiful and fresh.  Despite being over fifty years old, Black Orpheus holds strong.

The movie modernizes the story by placing it in a location that seems old and an event that resembles a Greek bacchanalia at points (which plays out in the ending since it does tie to Orpheus’ death).  It is a smart weaving of the story amongst a modern setting though it was criticized by some for the portrayal of the Brazilians as people who simply love to sing and dance…but it is a modern fantasy.

The acting is also strong.  Breno Mello wasn’t an actor when he was picked for the lead role.  The soccer player was selected by Marcel Camus when he saw him on the street.  Likewise the man playing Death was Adhemar da Silva who won two gold medals for Brazil at the 1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne Olympics in the triple jump.  Marpessa Dawn was actually American and despite being a “non-acting” cast, the group does play out the film with great performances which are aided by the legend and play feeling of the story.

black orpheus ending kids

Orpheus is dead…the sun rose…life goes on

The visuals also sell Black Orpheus.  Shot in Rio de Janeiro, the film features lush locations that showcase the city’s beauty.  It was shot in the favela of Morro da Babilônia which sits high above the city and gives great views of things like Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain.  The setting of Carnival also provides great visuals and allows the characters to dress in attire which would resemble the mythology…further tying the film to the stories.

Black Orpheus is a great film that is a fun watch.  The movie is great for those who love mythology because it really captures the essence of the story while modernizing it in a way that feels both like a fantasy and a real tale.  The movie has held up over the decades due to the classical ties and is a worthy “classic” for those who love movies.  Orpheus’ love might not have been strong enough to keep Eurydice with him, but it transcends times and history.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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