Black Orpheus (1959)
What is "Black Orpheus"? Is it re-imagining of a Greek myth? Is it a story unto itself? Or is it something in between the two?
Whatever it is, "Black Orpheus" is remarkably compelling and driven by its emotion. It is a heartbreaking and stunningly romantic movie—one that should not be missed.
Set in Rio de Janeiro, "Black Orpheus" concerns two lovers—Orpheus (Breno Mello) and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn). The movie's opening has Eurydice coming to Rio, fleeing from something. Her urgency isn't fully explained until much farther into the movie...but this much is clear: she's very uneasy. She's traveling to her cousin's house, Serafina (Léa Garcia).
As she travels, she is met with jovial people who are preparing for carnival. They stop her in the street and try to dance with her, but she is much more intent on just finding Serafina and having some peace.
She is swept up onto a trolley and taken to the end of the line. It's here that she meets the charming driver Orpheus who is kind enough to get some help for her. She is pointed towards the house and sent along her merry way.
Orpheus, in the meantime, is trying to keep his head on straight, which isn't easy with his girlfriend Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). She is bossy, jealous, and the precursor to the Alex Forrest type character.
Sexy? Yes. Crazy? Double yes.
As plans are made for carnival, Orpheus has to get his guitar out of hock so that he can make the sun rise. Taking this side-plot from the Greek side of the story, Orpheus has an enormous amount of charm and the power over certain natural wonders. When he plays the guitar and sings, he convinces the local boys believe that he makes the sun rise every day.
Pushed into an engagement, he is allowed precious little time away from his ever more demanding fiancee. When he gets the chance to be alone, he takes it and this is when he meets Eurydice again.
It seems like the characters in "Black Orpheus" are all familiar with the Greek tale. They make jokes about how Orpheus and Eurydice are going to fall in love because that's just the way things go. What is unexpected is how beautiful their inevitable romance is.
Director Marcel Camus uses a lot of nature shots to help ground the relationship in something other-worldly. It would seem that the face of their love is something from the heavens, something from the ocean, something of the sunrise and the sunset.
"Black Orpheus" also takes the time to ask what love really is. Is it physical attraction? It is something supernatural?
Certainly there is a supernatural aspect to the movie that is vital to the plot; but in the end, we are expected to believe that everyone is completely and totally human.
Not much happens in the movie, so "Black Orpheus" is doubly successful in creating likable and empathetic characters. We engage with them easily.
But that isn't the only surprise that the movie has going for it. Besides being beautifully photographed with vibrant colors, "Black Orpheus" is suspenseful, sexy, and frustratingly effective.
Camus doesn't use that many fancy shots. He is keen to let things unfold in front of the camera in a very natural way. There is no fancy music to accompany the more nail-biting moments. "Black Orpheus" is a very well-constructed film. The natural way everything looks helps us breathe a little deeper when love takes us to the air and through the sky.
"Black Orpheus" is a stunning movie and won international acclaim after its release.
Whether it is the lavish dances, the glorious costumes, or the look between lovers—"Black Orpheus" is sure to make you smile.
Posted by Micah Jones