The Movie Waffler DVD Review - BLACK ORPHEUS (1959) | The Movie Waffler

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DVD Review - BLACK ORPHEUS (1959)

The Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is transferred to 1950s' Rio.





Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Marcel Camus

Starring: Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn, Lourdes de Oliveira, Marcel Camus



You'll find yourself tapping your feet to the incessant Samba beat that underscores most of the movie. With Rio hosting the Olympics this summer, and its opening ceremony no doubt set to beam Brazil's rich musical culture into homes around the world, Screenbound's UK DVD is a timely release.



Every now and then a foreign language movie will escape from the arthouses and capture the imagination of the public at large - think Cinema Paradiso, Amelie and The Artist. In 1959 a little Brazilian movie directed by a Frenchman pulled off such a feat, taking home the Cannes Palme d'Or and Best Foreign Language Film awards at both the Oscars and Golden Globes. Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus launched an obsession for all things Brazilian, coinciding with the meteoric rise of footballer Pele and filling the caf├ęs and nightclubs of Europe and North America with the distinctive sounds of Bossa Nova and Samba.



Camus takes the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and transplants its story to the favelas of Rio during the annual Carnival, the world's biggest street party (think Notting Hill and Mardi Gras times 10!). Here, Orfeu (Breno Mello) is a tram conductor and local lothario engaged to be married to the overbearing Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). His head is turned however by the arrival in Rio of Eurydice (a radiant Marpessa Dawn), who is fleeing the unwanted attentions of a mysterious man. Amidst the background of the sound and fury of Carnival, the two engage in a rapid romance, but tragedy follows the pair through the crowded streets.



Black Orpheus is very much a movie of two halves, opening in the madness of Carnival and adopting the light and breezy tone of a Hollywood musical. We get an insight into how much importance Afro-Brazilians place on the annual event, a chance to dress up in outrageous finery and forget about their social and economic worries for a week of song and dance. Placing attention to detail on looking good on a budget and losing themselves in music and rhythm, the favela dwellers here share an ethos with the white working class Northern Soul devotees of 1970s England, or '80s African-American kids preparing to strut their stuff on Soul Train or The Scene: Back in the Day. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and you'll find yourself tapping your feet to the incessant Samba beat that underscores most of the movie.

Thanks to its darker half, there's an argument to be made for Black Orpheus as the first slasher movie. When the mysterious figure Eurydice is on the run from finally shows up in masked form, he looks for all the world like the villain of some post Halloween horror franchise. His final act pursuit of Eurydice through the after-hours tram station is staged like a sequence from a Mario Bava thriller, dropping the music from the soundtrack and bathing the stage in a red glow. The final scenes, echoing Orpheus' descent into the underworld, take on a surreal quality, and were heavily homaged by Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa for his 2015 film Horse Money.



Just as it seems Camus is set to send us off with a downbeat ending, he delivers a redemptive coda with as charming a final scene as you could imagine, reminding us of the power of music to transcend misery and tragedy. With Rio hosting the Olympics this summer, and its opening ceremony no doubt set to beam Brazil's rich musical culture into homes around the world, Screenbound's UK DVD is a timely release.

Extras:
Inside Black Orpheus is a half-hour documentary that looks at the film's impact and its place in Brazilian and samba culture; some insightful stuff from the featured experts.

Black Orpheus is released on DVD and Blu-Ray June 27th by Screenbound.

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