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Black Orpheus (The Criterion Collection)

169 customer reviews

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Product Description

Winner of both the Academy Award for best foreign-language film and the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, Marcel Camus’ Black Orpehus (Orfeu negro) brings the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the twentieth-century madness of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. With its eye-popping photography and ravishing, epochal soundtrack, Black Orpehus was a cultural event, kicking off the bossa nova craze that set hi-fis across America spinning.

Blame it on the bossa nova. French director Marcel Camus created an international sensation, and a craze for all things Brazilian, when he released Black Orpheus in 1959. Black Orpheus, based on a play by Vinicius de Moraes, is a valentine to Rio, Carnaval, and the infectious sounds of salsa and the then-just-emerging sultry bossa nova. When it was released, despite having won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Black Orpheus had not been widely known, but after it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, audiences worldwide sparked to its joyous cinematography and unforgettable soundtrack. Much as Leonard Bernstein did two years later with Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, Camus takes a centuries-old tale of love and doom, the Greek legend of Orpheus, and sets it in modern times, against an unforgettable musical backdrop. The actors are all splendid, including Breno Mello making his screen debut as Orfeo, a streetcar conductor musician with an untamed heart. The American-born Marpessa Dawn, who had been acting in France, plays the lovely, innocent Eurydice, who captures Orfeo's heart. Yet the entire cast is unforgettable, including Lourdes de Oliveira as the gorgeous, hot-tempered Mira, Orfeo's intended, and the lit-from-within Léa Garcia as Serafina. Even the young boys who follow Orfeo's every move are winning and natural young actors. But it's Rio itself that takes center stage in Black Orpheus--a place, through Camus's eyes, where even walking through the marketplace or disembarking a ferry is a dance--joyful, intricate, free, full of possibility. As the characters' stories build into the free-for-all climax of Carnaval itself, they encompass life and death, tragedy and comedy, and beautiful, sensual music that will haunt the viewer long after the final scenes.

The new Criterion Collection set features a wealth of extras, including a new digital print that showcases the vibrant colors and textures of Rio and its hillside favelas. Most memorable and impressive are the documentaries on the making of Black Orpheus--especially the mixed feelings, remembered quite bluntly, of playwright de Moraes when he saw the liberties that Camus had taken with his work. There are wonderful short features from the early '60s, while the initial impact of Black Orpheus was still being felt, including a casual interview with Dawn, serene and composed, about the sensation she and her cast members had created. Not to be missed is the feature on the creation of the soundtrack, by jazz historian Ruy Castro, focusing on how Camus chose the music that would define the world's view of Brazil for a generation, with amazing interviews with influential musicians and artists, including Gilberto Gil and Seu Jorge. "The soundtrack was at least as popular as the film," says Gil, and while that may be true, it would be hard to imagine one without the other. --A.T. Hurley

Special Features

New, restored high-definition digital transfer
Optional English-dubbed soundtrack
Archival interviews with director Marcel Camus and actress Marpessa Dawn
New video interviews with Robert Stam, Gary Giddins, and Ruy Castro
A la recherche d' "Orfeu negro," a feature-length documentary
Theatrical trailer
A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson

Product Details

  • Actors: Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn, Lourdes de Oliveira, Lea Garcia
  • Directors: Marcel Camus
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: August 17, 2010
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (169 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003N2CVOU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,261 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Black Orpheus (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

162 of 165 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 24, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
Do they clean the streets in Rio De Janeiro? Well, of course they do. When this carnival is over.

And if you watch this movie you will see that they do it very near the end of the last reel, as in the morning when the truck comes round spraying water, just one of a thousand little details that director Marcel Camus got right, and one of the most insignificant. But it is from a multiplicity of detail that an edifice of cinematic genius is constructed.

The true brilliance of Black Orpheus lies in the people who live on the side of the cliffs overlooking the harbor at Rio. It is their energy that prevails. Then there is the color, the costumes, the pounding rhythms, the spectacular vitality of life that is depicted as a carnival of dance and song in which we are driven along as on a wave. And yet there is the constant reality of death. And it strikes in ways we cannot comprehend, fatalistically, and we are helpless to do anything about it. And then Orpheus sings, a new Orpheus perhaps, and the sun rises again, and a little girl in white, looking like Eurydice in miniature, begins to dance as the little boy Orpheus plays his guitar, telling us that time has come round again.

Well, that's the plot as adapted by screen writer Jacques Voit from the play by Vinicius d Moraes as divined from the Greek mythology. Supporting this arresting conception is the music by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa. I recall the former as the composer of bossanova who gave us "The Girl from Ipanema" and made the samba international. Starring in the title role as the streetcar conductor who is loved by all is Breno Melo, who might be seen as the natural man and native of paradise.
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104 of 108 people found the following review helpful By R. Gawlitta on October 5, 2002
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
A lot of people were surprised when this won for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1959 Academy Awards. It hadn't been widely seen, except for winning at Cannes, it was a French director with a Portuguese-language film, with a black cast. (I've been to Rio and there's no racism, though some class-ism and other political nonsense). I saw this film in the 60's and loved it for its sincerity and profound lesson. I was in high school, and didn't really know much about the Orpheus legend. I was taken in by the narrative presented by Marcel Camus, and never forgot it. I subsequently visited Rio, and watching this film is most interesting, because it's about real people (not what the tourists see), but the exquisite photography not only shows vast vistas of Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, but vivid colors, as well as how seriously the Cariocas regard "Carnaval". Bruno Mello (Orpheus) was a handsome soccer star, and a fine actor. Marpessa Dawn, as Eurydice, is really excellent (according to liner notes, she was from Pittsburgh). A real natural. An interesting thing to notice is that, even when looking though an open door, there are great shots of the beaches, Rio's finest feature. I also attended a Macumba ceremony while there, and the one depicted in the film let me know that mine wasn't a fake. Then there's the brilliant score by Jobim and Bonfa, which, by now, has become standard/classic. The music truly carries the film, the acting is first-rate, and the use of color by cinematographers Louis Stein & Rene Persin is breath-taking. This is indeed a great film with humor, a few scares, great love story, and just about everything anyone would want. The music alone will entertain; everything else is like a fine sauce over an excellent entree.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Robert Melhorn on December 20, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
A wonder-filled whirl of color and sound, this movie will provide a boost for the hopeless romantic. The never-ending love story of Orpheus and Eurydice is regenerated in "modern" Rio during Carnival. Beautifully photographed with an excellent sound track, this movie is a must-see for any serious film connoisseur.
Links to the original Greek tragedy will test your knowledge of mythology and the trip to "Hades" with its voodoo incantations will stick in your mind like a fever-induced dream. The beauty and rhythm of this film will make you think of your first true love, and, if you're one of the lucky ones out there, make you glad you never let that person go.
I first saw Black Orpheus in New Orleans. One of my life's fondest memories is viewing this film at a local repertory theater. Whenever there were carnival street scenes, balcony-bound moviegoers would let loose with Mardi Gras beads and doubloons, adding to the carnival atmosphere.
Also, although I have a copy of the subtitled Orpheu Negro, which I would never part with, I have seen a dubbed version, only once and then on television. I would very much like to acquire a dubbed copy. Can anyone out there help? I remember there being much more to the story line revealed with the dubbed version. (For example, when at the pawn shop, as patrons are passing the guitar down to Orpheus, they are saying, "This is for Orpheus. This is for Orpheus." This phrase is transposed from person to person into "This is Orpheus. Here's Orpheus.", giving the guitar mystical properties and seeming to make it the embodiment of the spirit of Orpheus. Inscribed on the guitar are the words "Orpheus is my master."
I would give this film my highest recommendation and would encourage anyone to view it at least one a year.
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It's available from Amazon in a Criterion Collection dvd ($16.99)
Jun 23, 2009 by V. Orselli |  See all 2 posts
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