Orfeu Negro (France/Italy/Brazil)
More popular than most foreign-language films at the time, Marcel Camus’ “Black Orpheus” became a must-see art-house hit in the U.S., after winning the grand jury prize, the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival.
This vividly colorful film relates a tragic love story set in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro during its famous carnival. Inspired by the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice, in this version, Eurydice is a young woman pursued by a former lover consumed by Death, and Orpheus is the young man who brings about her death.
Orfeu (Breno Mello), a streetcar conductor and guitarist, is engaged to the exotic Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), but he falls for Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), the new girl in town, who arrives to visit her cousin Serafina (Lea Garcia), fleeing from her hometown because she is pursued by a mysteriou stranger, disguised as Death for Carnival. To save Eurydice, Orfeo descends into the underworld.
This was the second film made by Marcel Camus. Viewers related to the film’s grand CinemaScope cinematography by Jean Bourgoin, colorful sets and costumes, and above all the exciting music, composed by Brazil’s jazz greats, Luis Bonfa and Antonio Carlos.
Serving as a seductive introduction for Western viewers to Brazil’s culture and music, “Black Orpheus” is credited with increasing interest in all things Latin American and boosting tourism to that region.
In 1959, the fourth year of the foreign-language Oscar category, the five nominees were: “Black Orpheus” from France, which won, “The Bridge” from the Federal Republic of Germany, “The Great War” from Italy, “Paw” from Denmark, and “The Village on the River” from the Netherlands.