Reel Gems | Black Orpheus (1959)



In honor of Black History Month, we will take a look back at significant, rarely-seen Black films that we think deserve to be re-introduced to contemporary audiences. Today’s film is the 1959 Brazilian drama, Black Orpheus.

Known as the “film that introduced Bossa Nova to the world,” Black Orpheus captures an early slice of the rhythms of sexy Brazil in the late 1950s as well as giving cinema one of it’s most attractive screen couple in movie history!

Black Orpheus (Portuguese: Orfeu Negro) is a 1959 film made in Brazil by French director Marcel Camus. It is based on the play “Orfeu da Conceição” by Vinicius de Moraes, which is an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, setting it in the modern context of a favela in Rio de Janeiro during the Carnaval. The film was an international co-production between production companies in Brazil, France and Italy.

In Rio, Orfeo (Breno Mello) is a trolley conductor and musician, engaged to Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). During Carnival week, he sees Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), who’s fled her village in fear of a stalker; it’s love at first sight. Her cousin Sarafina (Léa Garcia), with whom she stays in Rio, is a friend of Orfeo and Mira, so the star-crossed lovers meet again. Later, during the revels, wearing Sarafina’s costume, Eurydice dances a provocative samba with Orfeo. Not only is Mira enraged when her rival is unmasked, but she is being stalked by Death: Eurydice is in danger, pursued through noisy crowds and a morgue. Can Orfeo conduct her to safety? Don’t look back.

The film is particularly renowned for its soundtrack by bossa nova legend Antônio Carlos Jobim, featuring songs such as “Manhã de Carnaval” (written by Luiz Bonfá) and “A felicidade” that were to become bossa nova classics.

Black Orpheus won the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival as well as the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the 1960 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.

So to borrow the title of the late Grover Washington, Jr., dance the little “Black Samba” and check out this classic love story.