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Black Orpheus (1959)

Winner of both the Academy Award for best foreign-language film and the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, this restaging by Marcel Camus of the myth of Orpheus in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival was championed when it was released as revolutionary for being one of the first international art films to have an entirely black cast.

Adding to this acclaim and sense of authenticity is one of the movie’s enduring charms – its glorious soundtrack composed by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim, two of the greatest composers of Afro-Brazilian sambas (Jobim wrote the 1967 song The Girl From Ipanema).

Ironically, in Brazil, the film is perennially criticised for exoticising the country as an all-night dance party, populated by hot-blooded Latin caricatures.

Although it is difficult to argue with these criticisms, which highlight many contemporary debates about visibility politics, the film is best appreciated on its own terms.

Self-consciously a fable, Black Orpheus is beautifully shot and wonderfully played by Marpessa Dawn and Breno Mello. Director Marcel Camus’s depiction of the River Styx and the Ferryman Charon as a night watchman at a government building, standing in a hallway with fluttering bits of paper blowing past his feet, is unforgettable.

Orfeu
Breno Mello
Eurídice
Marpessa Dawn
Mira
Lourdes de Oliveira
Serafina
Léa Garcia
Death
Adhemar Feirrera da Silva
Chico
Waldetar de Souza
Hermes
Alexandre Constantino
Benedito
Jorge dos Santos
Zeca
Aurino Cassiano
Little Girl
Maria Alice

Director
Marcel Camus