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Film / Black Orpheus

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Black Orpheus is a 1959 film, a French production shot in Brazil and in the Portuguese language. It is a retelling of the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in Rio during Carnaval. Orfeo is a trolley conductor who moonlights as a dancer in a samba school. He is engaged to be married to the gorgeous and passionate Mira, but he doesn't seem too enthused about it. On his trolley car, he meets Eurydice, who has arrived in Rio from the countryside because she is being chased by a mysterious man who she thinks is trying to kill her. Orfeo and Eurydice fall in love, but the strange man—Death himself—is still stalking her.

Black Orpheus was shot on a shoestring budget, with a cast of amateurs (except for female lead Marpessa Dawn). It won both the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Compare Orpheus, another Setting Update of the Orpheus myth in the modern day (namely 1950 France).

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It was the favorite movie of Black Panther leader Huey Newton, and Ann Dunham, the mother of Barack Obama.


Tropes:

  • Almighty Janitor: Orfeo, refusing to accept that Eurydice is dead, goes to the Office of Missing Persons. The only person there is the janitor—who of course knows where to find her, and takes Orfeo there.
  • Country Mouse: Eurydice left her rural village to stay with her cousin Sarafina in Rio and is very naive.
  • Dance Party Ending: After a Dance Party Beginning and a Dance Party Middle—apparently you can't even go on your daily commute in Rio during Carnaval without dancing. Anyway, the movie ends with two of Orfeo's young friends finding his guitar. A little girl wearing a white dress just like Eurydice did joins them. One of the boys starts to play the guitar, and they all start dancing. The End.
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  • Disposable Fiancé: Mira is sexy and seems like a lot of fun, but she's also very high-maintenance, and Orfeo dumps her like a sack of potatoes when Eurydice comes to the favela.
  • Don't Look Back: It's the Orpheus myth, after all. See Orphean Rescue below.
  • The Faceless: The Grim Reaper never takes off his Carnaval mask.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Mira is violently jealous of Eurydice, and she's right to be.
  • The Grim Reaper: He is dressed as a skeleton for Carnaval. When Orfeo accidentally kills her, by turning on the power in the station and energizing the power line Eurydice is holding, the Reaper picks her up and says "Now she's mine." He is then seen riding along with the ambulance to the morgue.
  • Hellevator: Here it is a staircase that the janitor leads Orfeo down as they go to find Eurydice. The symbolism is pretty clear—there is a red glow at the bottom of the staircase, and after they get to the bottom they cross the street to a gate guarded by a dog called Cerberus.
  • I'll Kill You!: Mira says this to Eurydice, and she is totally serious about it.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Bruno Mello is a soccer star (and briefly kicks a ball around in one scene).
  • Notable Original Music: The score, by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá, was very well-received and singlehandedly popularized samba worldwide.
  • Orphean Rescue: The janitor takes Orfeo to the Macumba ritual, and tells Orfeo to call to Eurydice by singing. The voice of Eurydice calls to him, but tells him not to look back, or she'll be gone forever. He looks back anyway, and finds the voice of Eurydice coming from an old woman, telling him she's gone for good.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: When Orfeo and Mira get their marriage license, the clerk jokes that her name must be Eurydice after learning his name is Orfeo. Mira has never heard of the myth and jealously assumes Orfeo is cheating on her, which foreshadows what happens when a woman named Eurydice actually does show up.
  • Setting Update: The Orpheus myth moved up about 2500 years to Brazil.
  • Spiteful Spit: Mira does this to Death himself when Death pisses her off.
  • Together in Death: Orfeo is carrying Eurydice's corpse when an enraged Mira throws a rock at his head, scoring a hit on his temple and causing him to fall down the cliff to his death. The next shot shows their bodies together at the bottom of the cliff. note 
  • The Underworld: There's a Macumba religious ritual going on there.
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