Black Orpheus

Black Orpheus

(Orfeu Negro)

(Marcel Camus, 1959)

Rating: 4/5

Reviewed by Dave Lancaster

Summary
: From the first tribal beats to the constant washes of brilliant colour, Black Orpheus is enrapturing and insightful entertainment.




This is a film that explodes on to the screen, starting suddenly and not letting up until its all-too slim run time is elapsed. Marcel Camus' 1959 Oscar and Cannes Palme d'Or winning picture is credited with bringing the bossa nova beat to the United States. It's also a delightful film.

Set amid the frantic dance-infused chaos of Rio de Janeiro's famed carnival, Black Orpheus captures the sensual Brazilian atmosphere just as dynamically as City of God would do nearly half a century later. Indeed, Camus' film feels so fresh and fast-paced it could’ve been made yesterday.



It's also hard to believe that this is a fiction film and not a documentary. Like the Italian neorealist movement, Black Orpheus depends on real life locations and everything that comes with them - the sights, sounds, streets, weather, people and energy that just can't be duplicated on a film set.

Despite being a (then) modern adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, Camus' film is overflowing with little background details that offer wonderful distraction from its old love story fable.

Criterion's Blu-ray looks and sounds absolutely superb. It contains the original Portuguese audio and an English language dub (which is fairly cheesily delivered and also suppresses the constant diagetic sound too far into the background - the original audio is the only way to go). Features include:

  •     New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
     
  •     Optional English-dubbed soundtrack
     
  •     Archival interviews with director Marcel Camus and actress Marpessa Dawn
     
  •     New video interviews with Brazilian cinema scholar Robert Stam, jazz historian Gary Giddins, and Brazilian author Ruy Castro
     
  •     Looking for “Black Orpheus,” a French documentary about Black Orpheus’s cultural and musical roots and its resonance in Brazil today
     
  •     Theatrical trailer
     
  •     PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson

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