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Blu-ray: Black Orpheus | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Black Orpheus

Blu-ray: Black Orpheus

Stunning restoration of an art-house classic that put Brazilian exoticism on the map

Marpessa Dawn as the innocent EurydiceCriterion Collection

Back in 1959, Black Orpheus was a revelation – a reworking of the Greek myth of doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice, played out in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. It was the first movie to win both the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. French director Marcel Camus cast his beautiful American wife Marpessa Dawn as Eurydice and Breno Mellor (a handsome Brazilian footballer Camus had spotted on a Rio street) played Orpheus.

Cast for their looks, they were not great actors, and neither ever achieved much success again on screen.

Criterion has done an excellent job restoring the extraordinary cinematography by Jean Bourgoin to its full glory. The skilful use of luscious Eastmancolor, the flamboyant costumes, sinuous choreography and heady fusion of real locations and mythic fantasy are reminiscent of Powell and Pressburger’s work on The Red Shoes. The score by Luis Bonfa, working with Antonio Carlos Jobim, put Brazilian bossa nova on the world stage, and the cleaned-up audio here does the samba music full justice.

Extras include a lengthy documentary about the film’s history and a fascinating critique by Brazilian cinema scholar Robert Stam, who finds it a patronizing European take on exoticism – to him, Black Orpheus is as authentic as a “French person making a film about American baseball”. Indeed, Barack Obama described in his autobiography how uncomfortable he found watching “the depiction of childlike blacks” when he saw the film with his mother in the early 1980s. But if unease with occasional stereotypes doesn’t intrude and the somewhat clunky acting can be ignored, this is still a beautiful celebration of Brazil.

Flamboyant costumes, sinuous choreography and heady fusion of real locations and mythic fantasy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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