Black Orpheus (1959)

Eurydice meets Rio.

Eurydice meets Rio.

Black Orpheus is one of these movies I’m scared to write about. There is just no way in the world my words could do a movie like this any kind of justice. That being said, I’m going to write about it anyway, and as you read this just remember: I insist you watch this movie.

Black Orpheus tells the story of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in 1959 Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval, with an appropriate soundtrack by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Orpheus is a trolley driver, and all the ladies love him. His guitar playing is supposed to be so good it makes the sun rise. He’s “engaged” to Mira, a headstrong woman if I ever saw one, but his love for her is questionable to say the least, and all but disappears into a puff of smoke when he meets his neighbor’s cousin, Eurydice. Eurydice has come to Rio not for Carnaval, but to escape the clutches of a man from home who she insists is trying to kill her.

Orpheus and his guitar.

Orpheus and his guitar.

Orpheus and Eurydice fall in love overnight, but what seems like perfection is quickly disrupted by the appearance of Eurydice’s masked man from home. The mysterious man chases Eurydice through the favela. Orpheus saves her, of course, but the man warns Orpheus that he’ll be back for Eurydice, and soon. The day he returns is the first day of Carnaval, and with him all hell breaks loose. Amongst the chaos of the countless parades of Carnaval, Mira spies Eurydice and in her boundless, jealous rage chases her through the crowd. Someone finally gets hold of Mira to stop her, but it is too late – she’s driven Eurydice right into the hands of the masked man, and he makes good on his promise that her life will end.

This is, truly, one hell of an amazing movie. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is sad, and this film definitely has a sadness to it as well, but it is also filled to the brim with exuberance and happiness. People are always dancing and

There will always be an Orpheus to make the sun rise.

There will always be an Orpheus to make the sun rise.

singing; it was hard to get good pictures because everyone is always moving! Even though it is set in a favela, there is never any focus on the fact that these characters are poor. Instead, what is made clear throughout the film is how tightly knit the community is; how everyone helps out their neighbors. But perhaps what I liked most about the film is its message that life is cyclical; someone’s end is someone else’s beginning. I was so awed by this movie, I couldn’t talk for a few minutes after it was over, all I could do was sit there and cry. I know, that sounds more than a little overblown, but it’s true. I could watch this movie every single day for the rest of my life.


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