Black Orpheus Review
One of the most curious releases this weekend is the reissue of the classic Franco-Brazilian film Black Orpheus. A splash of colour that paints on the screen some of the most postcard images that Rio de Janeiro will ever get, Black Orpheus introduced to the world the Bossa Nova and won the 1959 Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1960.
Directed by Marcel Camus, the film is set on the heights of a rock mountain in Rio where the dwellers of a 'favela' (slum) are getting ready for the carnival celebration. The cast is led by the handsome Breno Mello (Orpheus) who falls in love with Marpessa Dawn's Eurydice against the backdrop of romanticised shacks and broad-smiled noble-savages straight out of a vintage Coca-Cola advert.
The Cinema Novo (Brazil's neo-realist film movement) people hated this film because of its foreign, romanticised view of the poor as naive Olympian gods living in the firmament (the film is set on top of a mountain and the sky is often the background). They were right about this as Camus did cast a very Gallic, stylised and stereotypal look at that universe that looks like a Pierre et Giles photograph. However, the film did take samba outside the ghetto at a time when it was still taboo to enjoy the music, which the white middle-classes perceived as a subversive, low-brow expression. It had been banned from the Rio Carnival until the 1930s.
The film has not survived the test of time without looking like a kitsch relic of Rio de Janeiro memorabilia, but it does look beautiful. The scenario by Vinicius Girl from Ipanema Morais is messy and the re-contextualisation of the Greek story in a modern setting is often contrived. But the music alone justifies watching this film, which is very evocative of a more naive world that died during the 1960s.