Black Orpheus / “Orfeu Negro”: The Movie 1959 music by Vinicius De Moraes (brief intro part 1) extracted from Wikipedia

original movie poster 1959

Original Movie Poster

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Black Orpheus / (Orfeu Negro)

Directed by     Marcel Camus

Produced by     Sacha Gordine

Written by     Marcel Camus / Vinicius de Moraes / Jacques Viot

Starring     Breno Mello / Marpessa Dawn / Lourdes de Oliveira / Léa Garcia

Music by     Luiz Bonfá / Antonio Carlos Jobim

Cinematography     Jean Bourgoin

Editing by     Andrée Feix

Distributed by    GAGA Communications

Release date(s)     June 12, 1959 (France)

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Black Orpheus 4


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 Rio de Janeiro during the Carnaval. The film was an international co-production between production companies in Brazil, France and Italy.

The film is particularly renowned for its soundtrack by bossa nova legend Antonio Carlos Jobim, featuring songs such as “Manhã de Carnaval” (written by Luiz Bonfá) and “A felicidade” that were to become bossa nova classics. According to Time magazine, it played a crucial role in the life of Ann Dunham, the mother of American president Barack Obama. [1]

Black Orpheus won the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival[2] as well as the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film (in those awards the film was credited as a French production; only in the 1961 BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film was Brazil credited together with France and Italy).

In 1999, the film was essentially remade as Orfeu by Carlos Diegues, this time with a soundtrack featuring contemporary Brazilian pop singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso.

The movie opens with images of white Greek statues that explode to reveal black men dancing samba to drums in a favela. Orpheus (Breno Mello) is a trolley driver in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as well as a playboy. Although engaged to be wed, he does not seem very enthusiastic about the concept of marriage and spends the majority of the film trying to avoid his fiancée, Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira).

The film begins with Orpheus and his fiancée going to get a marriage license. The clerk at the courthouse makes reference to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, causing Orpheus’s fiancée to get jealous and assume that there is another woman in his life. After they get the license, Mira agrees to loan Orpheus the money to buy her own ring because Orpheus wants to get his guitar out of the pawn shop for the carnival. When Orpheus gets home, he finds that his neighbor Serafina’s (Léa Garcia) cousin named Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) has been visiting. Death (the man in the skeleton suit) is after Eurydice. This is shown in a scene in which the man chases her down and Orpheus gallantly goes to her rescue.

Orpheus, upon seeing Eurydice, wins her graces by playing her a song on his guitar. He is impressed upon her telling him the story of Orpheus and Eurydice and letting him know that she knows he knows of it also because of the song which he had just been playing. Orpheus is a pleasant break from the insanity of Carnival, which seems to agitate Eurydice’s already frightened state. The two of them fall in love, yet are constantly on the run from both Mira and Death, both of whom wish to kill Eurydice.

On the day of Carnival, Eurydice dresses in Serafina’s costume in order help Serafina spend more time with her navy man; the costume keeps Eurydice’s face concealed. During the festival, Orpheus uses every excuse to be able to dance with Eurydice (who is supposed to be Serafina) rather than with Mira. He consistently tells Mira to get back to her place.

Eventually, Eurydice’s identity is revealed and she is forced once again to run for her life from both Mira and Death. This time she is not so lucky and is killed accidentally by Orpheus in his own trolley station when he turns the power on and electrocutes her. Death says “Now she’s mine” before knocking Orpheus out. Despite the obvious fact that she is dead and the less obvious fact that he is the one who actually killed her, Orpheus looks for Eurydice within the Bureau of Missing Persons. The janitor there tells him that the place holds only papers and that no people would be found there. The illiterate janitor asks Orpheus if he can read, then tells him his reading ability will not help him find his love. The janitor, taking pity on Orpheus, takes him down the stairs and to the place of a Macumba ritual, a regional form of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé.

At the gate, there is a dog named Cerberus, after the three-headed dog of Hades in Greek mythology. At this ritual, Orpheus is able to channel the spirit of Eurydice through the body of an old woman. Orpheus calls out to her and asks to see her, but Eurydice begs him not to look toward the voice, lest he lose her forever. When he looks back to see Eurydice, her spirit leaves the woman and he loses her forever (This is in direct correlation to the Greek myth in which Orpheus is able to save his love Eurydice but loses her forever when he looks back at her).

Orpheus wanders in mourning for the remainder of the film. His wanderings take him to the City Morgue, where he retrieves Eurydice’s body. He carries her in his arms across town and up the hill toward his home. (The Greek Orpheus also wandered around after Eurydice’s death, refusing all other women until he is killed by Thracian Maenads in the heat of Dionysian ritual.) Like the Greek Orpheus, this Orpheus is killed by a group of apparently crazed women. As we see Orpheus’ and Serafina’s shack burning (a fire set by Mira, no doubt), Mira flings a stone that hits him in the head and knocks him over a cliff to his death as he carried Eurydice’s limp body.

Orfeu Negro  Marcel Camus Black Orpheus Criterion PDVD_007-01

There are two children, Benedito and Zeca, who follow Orpheus around throughout the plot. They believe that it is Orpheus’s guitar that causes the sun to rise in the morning. After Orpheus death, Benedito insists that Zeca pick up the guitar and play so that the sun may rise again. Zeca plays, and the sun does rise. A little girl comes by, gives Zeca a single flower and the film ends with the three of them dancing.

movie shot

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writers and composers of the movie

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7 Responses to “Black Orpheus / “Orfeu Negro”: The Movie 1959 music by Vinicius De Moraes (brief intro part 1) extracted from Wikipedia”

  1. Muito Obrigada!
    I found this site to be extremely helpful in my research of Orpheu de Negro for a musical performance. The clips of the film are wonderful as it is very difficult to find the film in a video store. The videos of Jobim are a fantastic treat!
    Eu adoro a musica Brasileira! Eu so American, mais Brasileira de coracao.

    Fique com Deus,
    Perley Rousseau

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  6. I need the music, alto sax transcription, never really got this tune out of my head since I first played it

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