Sunday, June 8, 2014

Orfeu Negro

Bruno Mello and Marpessa Dawn in Black Orpheus

This week's TCM Import is the gorgeous Black Orpheus, which airs overnight tonight at 2:00 AM.

Black Orpheus retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, except that it's been updated and set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the time of Carnival. Orfeo (Bruno Mello) is a tram conductor in Rio, about to celebrate Carnival and then get married to his fiancée Mira. However, that's going to change. Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) comes to Rio from some small town because she's trying to escape somebody who's stalking her. Eurydice stays with her cousin Serafina, who just happens to be a friend of Mira and Orfeo. So you know that Orfeo is going to meet Eurydice and fall in love with her, because the fates require it.

Sure enough, Orfeo is taken with Eurydice, and that's going to cause conflict, but dammit, it's Carnival, and everybody should be celebrating! Besides, they've all got such lovely costumes for Carnival. Still, the figure that had been stalking Eurydice back home has been following her, and it turns out that figure is Death, looking rather better than he did in The Seventh Seal: everybody and everything in Black Orpheus is impossibly beautiful, even though the movie is supposed to be set in the favelas, the hillside slums of Rio de Janeiro.

If you know the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, you know that Eurydice has to die, so eventually that happens in our movie. Orpheus in mythology descends into the underworld; in the movie, that's replaced by the local morgue. Orpheus is given the chance to win Eurydice back from death, but there's a catch. He has to walk in front of her, and he can't look back until both of them are back in the regular world....

The mythological tale of Orpheus and Eurydice isn't a bad one, and could probably have been made competently at any Hollywood studio, although apparently none ever did. It's probably good that they didn't, because the studio era wouldn't have used location shooting, which is one of the many things making Black Orpheus such a wonderful movie to watch. It's filled with one gorgeous visual after another, made beautiful not only by the location, but also the actors, the Carnival costumes, and the color. Even though you likely already knew the story, Black Orpheus is still a movie well worth watching.

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