Thursday, April 8, 2010

REVIEW: Black Orpheus vs. Orfeu

Black Orpheus
Director: Marcel Camus
Year 1959

Black Orpheus is a beautiful and magical film that borrows elements from the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and transports it to the majestic shores of Rio de Janeiro during the wondrous time of Carnaval. This film is a vision to behold and it captures the essence of a time long lost as the age of cinema progressed into its modern form.

We are introduced to our two main character very early on in the film. Eurydice, played by a stunningly classical young woman named Marpessa Dawn, is a young woman fleeing from her home in fear of a stalker and a recurring nightmarish vision. Orfeo, played by a charismatic young man by the name of Breno Mello, is a trolley conductor and musician who has recently been engaged to a beautiful woman named Mira, played by the vivacious Lourdes de Oliveira. One day both Orfeo and Eurydice meet as Eurydice arrives in Rio de Janeiro and a small but simple spark ignites between the two.

Orfeo the trolley conductor as he sees
the beautiful Eurydice for the first time.

The imagery during this city scene as everyone prepares for the coming of Carnaval, is a sight full of visionary pleasures, with the brash and vibrant colors of the city bursting at the seem. The entire feel of this opening scene and the quality of the shots remind me of the cityscapes of San Francisco in Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 film Vertigo. I wonder if director Marcel Camus was at all influenced by Hitchcock's imagery or if it's all just a coincidence. Either way, both films are masterpieces and are examples of classic cinematic films. These brilliant images whisk you away to a world that only seems to exist in the celluloid fantasy of the director's mind.

Eurydice, as she is surrounded by the colors of Carnaval.

As the two get to know each other better, their friendship slowly starts to grow into something much more. The director knows how to frame the gorgeous landscape of Rio de Janeiro and the scenes with our two actors interacting with each other in such a breathtaking setting is an awe inspiring sight, one that cinema was made for. The scenery combined with the blooming of their relationship is a copious vision of exquisite brilliance and one that develops even more as the film progresses.

Their love begins to bloom.

I really can't say enough about the beauty of Rio de Janeiro. Marcel gives us enticing vistas of the surrounding areas that water the mouth and glisten the eyes, begging us to fall prey to its ever alluring sight. We are given glimpses of these heavenly views in between each scene, showing both night and day in this stunning city. Each shot looks stripped from a painting, moving with such grace that it carries you along with the story. Marcel has given us some stunning photography with this film and all of his efforts have paid off.

Just a few of the marvelous shots that Marcel has captured for this film.

Marcel, not being satisfied with giving us a captivating love story of two innocents and placing it in such a wondrous place, brings a darker element into the story. Eurydice's visions of a stalker that has driven her from her home and has now followed her to Rio de Janeiro, are quite haunting. But are they really visions or is there in fact a stranger closing in to seal her fate? She sees a masked man peering from a doorway and it shocks Eurydice cold, seeing the nightmarish image of the skull faced man in this place and time. She fears for her life and knows that death will find her one way or another.

The vision of death as it mocks Eurydice.

Orfeo, feeling compelled to stand guard for anymore unwelcomed visions made flesh, decides to sleep outside of Eurydice's house. Orfeo is worried about Eurydice's visions and fears that he could lose this person that he's just starting to feel a connection with. The sequences with the horror element of the skeletal man is a precursor to what will eventually come in the final closing moments of the film. It is an impending sign of doom for one of our characters and one that rears its ugly head from time to time, to pluck us from this heavenly world of warm sunsets and remind us that all our time in this world will soon come to an end one way or another. It's haunting in its simplicity and effective in its masked form, while the guarding of Eurydice's house by Orfeo is a sign that maybe they can overcome this shadow that has blighted their otherwise peaceful love.

Orfeo guards Eurydice's house from unseen demons.

There's a beautiful scene that happens the next morning, as two young boys believe that Orfeo has the power to make the sun rise by playing music to entice it back into the waking world. It's a sweet moment and one that pacts an emotional punch. The imagery of the boys watching as the sun rises from the ocean horizon, is something to behold. There is so much heart in that scene and so much human spirit, that it seeps through the screen and into our hearts with the warm rays of the rising sun. It's just another one of those magical moments that this film has so many of.

A beautifully magical scene where Orfeo plays music to make the sun rise.

The Carnaval scenes are absolutely pulsing with life and energy as the full wonder of the event is captured with great excess. The spirit of Carnaval washes over the entire screen as you're witness to its brilliance. Both Orfeo and Eurydice attend the event, but Eurydice has to cover her face with a costume so Mira, Orfeo's fiance, won't know her identity. The gentle conspicuous play of Mira's character as she tries to figure out who is under Eurydice's costume is strung out with a curious hand and teases the mystery with a tension that builds until it bursts from the weight of the query.

There's some fantastic imagery that comes with the Brazilian Carnaval.

As Mira's curiosity gets the better of her, she flings back Eurydice's vail and is taken aback once she sees her face. She goes into a wild rage and attempts to kill Eurydice. Eurydice escapes, but only by the help of the very mysterious stalker that has been plaguing her visions. He halts Mira's hand, only to pursue Eurydice on his own terms. This chase sequence, that resembles a masked killer type slasher film, delves deep into the surreal as they take their chase through harsh red light filled factories and green hued accented halls. It's as if we have time traveled to 1963 into a Mario Bava film with its expressive lighting schemes and rich shadows. These vibrant scenes resemble some of Bava's most atmospheric work such as Black Sabbath, The Whip and the Body, and Blood and Black Lace. I wonder if Bava was some how influenced by Black Orpheus and was entranced by the saturated colors of these particular chase scene?

The chase scene emits such haunting imagery.

I was startled by how dynamic this horror element was in the story. It kind of caught me off guard and left me glued to the screen as each brand new color was presented into the frame. It's an engaging visual device that has been used in some of my most beloved italian horrors. Dario Argento went wild with this concept in his 1977 film, Suspiria. It's amazing to see that this Brazilian film could have influenced such diverse directors as Bava and Argento and started a trend that would thrive in the Italian cinema.

An ominous shot of the masked stalker as he watches Eurydice.

If it wasn't for a lack of body count, you could even say that Black Orpheus was the very first slasher film. We have all the elements that it takes to be considered among the genre. We have the young lovely couple as their love is jeopardized by a masked killer. We have these intense scenes with the masked man stalking his victim all with the hauntingly horror like visuals. Could this also have sprung the idea into the minds of Bob Clark, John Carpenter, and again Mario Bava when they went on to make their groundbreaking films Black Christmas, Halloween, and Bay of Blood? If so, this film delves even deeper into forging some of the logistics of the horror genre and has helped establish it in its very own way. 

Orfeo, lost in the red haze of hell as he searches for Eurydice.

Like all myths, Orfeo and Eurydice's love ends in tragedy, but I'll let you put the pieces together for yourself and see how you come to interpret it. It's a very ambiguous conclusion and one that gives the film an extra hint of mystery and builds on the legendary myth. Its story is one of hope, that is shattered by our very nature to be human and to follow our curious tendencies. Whether this is a morality tale or a tale of mourning we are given the impression that love might withstand all things, but in the end it's up to us to decide.

I really enjoyed this captivating journey into two lovers lives as they come to grips with finding each other only to be ripped apart by an unknown destiny. The horror elements of this film are greatly appreciated by this viewer and help drive the conclusion of the film home. If surreal tales of mythic proportions are what move you at the cinema, then I highly suggest that you check this film out as soon as you can. Its magical web of hope and tragedy will spin through your mind long after the abrasive colors of the Carnaval lights have faded.

Director: Carlos Diegues
Year 1999

In this reinvention of Black Orpheus and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, we are brought into the modern world full of gangsters and violence and given a heavy dose of a Romeo and Juliet like tragedy that strays away from the magic of the original 1959 film, but builds up its own mythology full of love and death.

 An enchanting opening shot with style to spare.

We are introduced to a handsome young man named Orfeu, played by the talented Toni Garrido, as he strums his guitar in front of a warm morning sunrise. The same delightful concept plays out in this film, with a strong mythology that Orfeu can make the sun rise from playing on his guitar. Opening with this idea really brings us into the fantasy of it all and allows us to be swept up into this modern day fairy tale. Also the imagery of Orfeu playing from his window as the sun rises in the background is simply stunning and is a great addition to the palette of this powerful piece.

Stunning photography that propels us into this fairy tale.

Orfeu is loved by his fellow neighbors that inhabit the Rio Favela, a shanty town in the otherwise beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro. The location is bursting with potential for a story rift with poverty in such a stunning part of the world. This beauty contrasted with the compacted areas of the slums lends a intriguing opportunity for metaphorical comparisons between the two worlds of Orfeu coming from the slums and his heavenly music that lifts itself up above the shackles of the congested and troubled lifestyle below.

Orfeu as he looks out at the rising sun and the dawn of a new day.

The imagery that the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro provides is absolutely stunning and director Carlos Diegues uses every last drop of scenery to engulf us with the beauty of the region. Even the shanty town, with its endless sea of houses, looks so alive and alluring, disguising the horrible living conditions and daily struggle that lie underneath its shingle tiled belly.

A view to die for of the city of Rio de Janeiro.

We are then introduced to Euridice, played by a beautiful unknown actress named Patricia Franca. Euridice is a young woman who has just lost her family and is trying to start anew when she meets Orfeu and they begin a tender love affair. Orfeu, at the beginning of the film, is portrayed as a sort of womanizer, but after his meeting with Euridice he seems to change his tune rather quickly and does everything in his power to win her heart. Patricia plays Euridice's character with a sweet innocence that conflicts perfectly with the corrupt tendencies of life in the slums.

Innocence born in the form of Euridice.

There are many dream like images throughout this fantastic fairy tale yarn. The imagery is otherworldly, making us believe that anything is possible in this euphoric story. There are many differences between Black Orpheus and Orfeu. Black Orpheus is definitely the better film, but Orfeu does some wonderful things that make it stand out from its origins and brings many new concepts to the table that actually turns it into an entirely different film. These changes are greatly appreciated and I love the magical tone that this film provides. It's almost an exaggerated visual image of what falling and being in love is like. It's a very spiritual sense that the director has captured and one that is impressionable on the minds of people that still hope that love is what makes the world go round.

A very surreal shot of Euridice floating among the stars.

The music throughout the film is very enjoyable and gives an original flavor to help aid the story on setting itself apart from its predecessor. The samba music that flows through the veins of this film really give it a pulse and bring the story to life. Orfeu's playing also encourages the spirit of the slums as his music travels to every corner of the shanty town, enjoyed by the villagers as they rest under the night sky. There is just something peaceful about many moments in this film, that help you reflect on what you are seeing on the screen.

Orfeu playing some sweet tunes on his guitar.

There is also some imagery that harkens back to the original film of Black Orpheus. We are treated to a great shot of Euridice as she looks at a vigil that emits a colorful red light that brightens her face and resembles the atmospheric conclusion and ultimate demise of Eurydice from the 1959 story. It's both haunting and beautiful in its morbid reflection and a wonderful addition to the film's caliber of scenes.

A parallel look into the comparisons of the 1959 film and the 1999 film.

Every night time scene is proceeded by a beautifully captured morning scene, emphasizing the sublime landscape and strengthening the extravagant idea that Orfeu rises the sun with his music. Each time we see Rio de Janeiro in this lighting, it's a treat, and the vistas are so inviting that we never tire of the different angles of its mountainous terrain.

A beautiful sunrise brought on by Orfeu.

Both Euridice and Orfeu's happy affair is not without its ominous moments. There is much violence in the slums, with gang warfare running rampant. This blight, brought on by the poverty stricken economy of the slums, seeps into every corner of Rio Favela, corrupting the innocent citizens and effecting their lives with dire consequences. Orfeu gets mixed up in this turmoil over an altercation he has with one of the gang leaders named Lucinho, played by an underused Murilo Menicio. The two have a sorted past, and both are polar opposites of each other. Murilo just isn't given enough time in this film to leave a lasting impression, which is quite a shame since he is known in Brazil for making fantastic films like his underrated 2003 film, The Man of the Year. I really must review this film, because it is amazing, but I'm still trying to figure out how I can play region restricted DVDs on my computer in order to get my screen grabs. Damn the system.

Euridice can feel the coming storm.

These moments of ominous foretelling are few and far between, but they leave a lasting impression and imply that something bad will come from this squabble of jealousy and personal neglect. There are also silent threats from Orfeu's jealous ex lovers as they plot to end their happy union. There's no shortage of danger and it seems that the world is against them as they continue on, lost in the oblivion of love as the Carnaval sets into full swing.

The flamboyant festival of Carnaval in the thriving Rio de Janeiro streets.

During Carnaval, Carlos directs these kaleidoscope images with a careful eye, always giving us a new and exciting angle that really shows the scope of the world renowned festival. The energy in the air is thick as the music pounds unto the world, sending the hundreds of colorful costumers to dance with the rhythmic beat of the samba drums. There really isn't anything more livelier then Carnaval and we're given a front row seat courtesy of this talented director.

Not everyone is joining in on the festivities though. A sniper rests on a rooftop across the street, waiting for his chance to take out the pesky Orfeu. He was sent by Lucinho to settle the score and rid himself of anymore interfering inclinations that could keep him from ruling the streets. Will this be Orfeu's last Carnaval?

Superman is finally pushed over the edge.

In all good myths there is a tragedy, and this film really piles the sorrow on in its last few acts. We are given a dramatic scene between Euridice and Lucinho that doesn't end well for our young lover. Unlike in Black Orpheus, we are not given a masked killer as the antagonist, but a drug lord bent on jealousy and high on something other then life. His jealous tendencies brings about the downfall of another and ultimately starts a domino effect that ripples all the way to Orfeu, giving him a choice on whether to keep his moral compass or succumb to the violence that he so valiantly stood against. It's an interesting concept asking the question that if you grow up around violence are you doomed to live a violent life?

Lucinho confronts Euridice in her final moments.

Orfeu and Lucinho stand at the edge of a cliff overlooking the city. Both characters stand on the precipice of making their final decisions in life, one that will determine how they leave this world. The outcome is anything but pure as we are shown a bloody conclusion that condemns Orfeu to his horrible fate as his past conquests come back like the wings of kharma, bringing about his demise.

It's a sad ending, but one that is filled with hope as a new generation is passed the torch in the form of a guitar. Will they come to the same fate as our star crossed lovers, or will they find a way to coexist among the jealousy and violence that festers in the slums of Rio Favela. We are given the hope that they could find away in this turbulent region of the world.

The film Orfeu, is a tremendous accomplishment for the Brazilian director and one that holds its own as it borrows the story from Black Orpheus and manipulates it for its own purposes. I do believe that Black Orpheus is the better film, but what Carlos has achieved with this film is quite impressive and he sets it apart from its original form with great results. The modern setting and fairy tale tone add to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and create an intriguing story packed with flashy visuals and heart soothing music. This is definitely recommended for music lovers and anyone that enjoys a good foreign drama with a flare for life and love.

5 out of 5 stars       A Classic Myth Brought to Vibrant Life!

4 out of 5 stars                   An Amazing Modern Fairy Tale!


  1. Hi---just read your reviews of BLACK CHRISTMAS,SOLARIS,MAN OF THE YEAR,CARNIVAL OF SOULS (I have this on VHS and love it--it's a classic)DOGHOUSE (haven't seen this one,but read about it on IMDB) and ORPHEUS (I've only seen the original one and loved it--haven't seen the remake). I've seen the 1st two I mentioned. Enjoyed your review of SOLARIS and CHILDREN OF MEN--liked COM also. All I can say is that you're got very good taste in films--here's a suggestion--check out this 1995 Spanish horror flick called DAY OF THE BEAST--I'd like to see a review on that crazy-as-hell flick---very much worth seeing. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to check out all of those reviews, it's always nice to hear that someone out there is enjoying them. I just watched the trailer for Day of the Beast and it looks absolutely INSANE! I just put it on my wishlist and hopefully I'll be checking it out soon. It definitely looks like one hell of a ride. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. I've never had a chance to get around to it yet, but indeed, "Black Orpheus" is one of my favourite films! So beautiful, but the death guy always creeped me out! Living too far in the past, I didn't know about "Orfeu." Gonna have to check it out!

  4. Yeah Black Orpheus is definetly a keeper in my book and Orfeu is still a great film, but nowhere near as good as its inspirational original. Haha, that death guy is rather creepy and I've always thought that he looked like Kriminal. Thanks for checking out the review and by the way, I love your blog!

  5. Excellent reviews you have made! I too thought the original to be a far superior film, with visuals, actors, music and mood all coming together to create a masterpiece that stays with the viewer forever. Last night I watched Orfeu and found it a lot less special---but is that not the way of almost all remakes/re-imaginings of classics? It was kind of fun to see Lea Garcia ("Serafina" from the original film) in a bit part as the mother of the green-haired kid in the remake. I have to say, though, the MOST fascinating thing about Orfeu had to be, for me, a black American female, the casting of a light-complexioned woman as Eurydice, the be-all and end-all for Orfeu. None of his other conquests, no other woman in the film, was so pale-skinned or Euro-featured. All were exceedingly lovely---but she was "the one." Interesting that back in 1959's version, this was not so.