Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro)

Critics Consensus

Colorful, atmospheric, and infections, Black Orpheus takes an ancient tale and makes it fresh anew, thanks in part to its bewitching bossa nova soundtrack.



Total Count: 37


Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,257
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Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) Photos

Movie Info

Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) is literally what its title suggests: a retelling of the "Orpheus and Eurydice" legend enacted by black performers. This time the setting is the annual Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Orpheus (Breno Mello) is a streetcar conductor; Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) has just jilted her lover and is attempting to escape his wrath. Orpheus himself falls in love with Eurydice, whereupon her ex-lover, disguised as the Angel of Death shows up and kills Eurydice. To reclaim his lost love, Orpheus enters "Hell" (the Rio morgue) and uses supernatural methods to revive the dead girl. A multi-award winner on the international film scene, Black Orpheus features a samba musical score by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

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Critic Reviews for Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro)

All Critics (37) | Top Critics (13)

  • In terms of sheer sun-kissed pulchritude, Black Orpheus was like nothing seen before when it exploded with its bossa nova soundtrack in 1959, winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Oscar for foreign film.

    Dec 23, 2016 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Kate Muir

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • An almost irrationally infectious retelling of the Orpheus-Eurydice chestnut set during carnival and feverish with hip-swiveling hustle, exploding local color, and sleeve-worn heart.

    Nov 15, 2013 | Full Review…
  • An inspired reinvention of the underworld.

    Nov 15, 2013 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • It is an amazing creation.

    Nov 15, 2013 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • This sort of thing was considered high art not so long ago; now it seems forced and ponderously symbolic.

    Nov 15, 2013 | Full Review…
  • [The film has] swirling color, the excitement of samba and the accessible joy of a fabled city, not to mention a charming Orpheus in the young Brazilian Breno Mello, and a dazzling Eurydice in the American-born dancer and actress Marpessa Dawn.

    Oct 23, 2010 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro)

  • Mar 01, 2018
    Director Marcel Camus grabs us from the outset in this film, with the energy of samba music playing as women return to their village carrying large containers on their head. Children are scampering about and they're on a hill overlooking Rio de Janiero, surrounded by stunning mountain peaks and beautiful bays below. The film takes the classical tale of Orpheus and Eurydice and adapts it to Brazil at the time of Carnival, and while I liked the mythological reference, it was the setting, cast, and overall vibrancy that really had me enjoying it. How fantastic it is to see all this color and energy in a film from the 1950's. The cinematography is excellent, with those beautiful vistas and sunsets, and quite a few street scenes as well. There's also some great music, with the spontaneous wailing and drumming in the streets offset by a couple of love ballads with touching lyrics. The central characters of Orfeu and Eurydice are played by Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn reasonably well, and it was fascinating to me to find out later that Mello had never acted before. Camus saw him on the street and asked him if he wanted to be in a movie, and then he was the star. Orfeu is a ladies man engaged to the vivacious Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), but he's drawn to the simple purity of Eurydice, who has come to the city for the first time. It's a good-looking cast, and hard not to be drawn by its magnetism. The supporting roles are fine too, starting with Serafina (Léa Garcia) and Chico (Waldemar De Souza), who engage in delightful banter. The two little boys (Jorge Dos Santos and Aurino Cassiano) are also a joy to watch. Sensitivity surrounds the film, since dancing and partying are stereotypes some hold of Brazilians or people of color in general, e.g. reducing them to simple-minded people who do nothing else. I can see the concern and understand a possible negative reaction, and it carries even greater weight when it comes from Brazilian themselves, or the likes of President Obama. I confess I have not had to live with the consequences of these types of stereotypes, so you can take my opinion for whatever it's worth, but I saw it as a celebration of the culture, and it was fantastic to see the diversity. The characters are not single-dimensional, and I enjoyed seeing the love and tenderness alongside sassy playfulness in the romances. As for the lack of realism, well, it's a Greek myth adapted to Carnival, so it's fantasy by definition - and certainly meant to be a complete view of life in Brazil. You have Death chasing Eurydice around, for goodness sake. In adapting the myth, I wish it had been more closely tied to the classical story. It's interesting to me that amidst all of the colorful, wild, chaos of Carnival, which is an extreme representation of Life, we have Death so near, and maybe that's one of the points. The film drags a bit towards the end, though the final scene of the three children dancing nicely lightens the tragedy. Overall, well worth watching, and quite a unique film - just be mindful of the sensitivity.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 28, 2015
    Black Orpheus has one of the best endings in film. Overall, it has the charm, spirit, and talent that one looks for in an indie film. While I am not quite as enamored with it as some other reviewers, nonetheless I believe Black Orpheus was quite good and give it a hearty recommendation.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 17, 2014
    "Extra-Tan Orpheus"! I keep forgetting how many black people are in Brazil, although I might simply not be paying too much mind to Brazil, because I keep forgetting that this film is Brazilian. I suppose ever since they did the "Orphic Trilogy", France has to somehow be involved in anything involving the Orpheus, because this is a joint-French project, and on top of that, it's directed by a Frenchman. I'd say that it's not like they were going to get a white American do direct something called "[u]Black[/u] Orpheus", but that's just today's interpretation of race relations in liberal America, because when this film came out, the blacks were hoping that they would get something this respectful in the States. Amazing how these bossa nova tunes are older than "Bossa Nova Baby", and if you think that I sound like an ignorant American for only noticing a style of music once Elvis does it, at least I'm not racist, like a lot of Americans were at this time. ...Well, I don't know; I'm still not doing progressive Alabama a great favor by watching a film called "[u]Black[/u] Orpheus", so maybe I should refer to this as "African-Brazilian Orpheus", at least to show liberal America just how stupid that sounds. At the risk of offending yet more people, if this film taught me nothing else, it's that before hip-hop came in and messed it all up, black people were making good music all around the world, and the French whities were making entertaining movies about that topic along the way, although such entertainment goes limited, at least by questionable pacing. The film can get rather draggy, with such filler as, of all things, dancing sequences being particularly monotonous, although even the material covered in the actual plotting meanders, making a somewhat thoughtful atmosphere a touch dull, while driving a certain unevenness into the focus of this story of limited layers, or at least what feels like limitations to layers. The film limps along its plot points to the extent of actually losing focus before too long, convoluting a path which is either overblown or, well, undercooked. A lot of the narrative focus is unclear because, for all the dragging, characterization is thin, in that development is not so much lacking, as much as it is questionable, never truly gracing its roles with nuance which might be worthy of investment, and seeming to use them as devices for the contrivances. The conflicts feel a bit manufactured, with trite dialogue and histrionics which are made all the more cheesy by fantastic aspects, because at its heart, this film seems to be aiming for some sort of thematic or artistic expression which is even more ambiguous than the focus of the narrative, due to all of the questionable structuring. With even the thematic value thin, this film cannot obscure its natural shortcomings, because even with all of the dragging and underdevelopment taken out of account, this story concept remains lighthearted and reliant on a color which is there, but diluted by an execution which is even more problematic than the ideas behind this film. This film ought to at least be driven by its color, and in an adequate amount of ways, it is, but in too many places, it's a little flat, with humor, focus and intrigue, until it falls deep into underwhelminginess, almost into mediocrity. The final product, however, manages to avoid descending to that point, narrowly saved by an entertainment value which is complimented by a solid aesthetic value. Even Luiz Bonfá's and Antônio Carlos Jobim's widely recognized soundtrack is underexplored, and when it is used, it kind of wears you down when it falls upon, say, the aforementioned overdrawn dancing sequences, but that distinct bossa nova flavor does a lot to liven the film up, and help in selling the colorful culture of Brazil. Really, this film is a rich tribute to Brazil in a number of ways, not just with its musical style, but with a visual style that isn't too cinematography splendid, but with just enough color to bounce nifty Brazilian culture traits, as well as gorgeous Brazilian landscapes. There's an immersion value to this film's celebration of Brazil, in all of its aesthetic glory, thus, you can really feel the passion in Marcel Camus' direction, although that's not to say his sharp tastes end with the celebration of distinctly lovely music and visuals, as he actually utilizes these aesthetic touches to compliment the energy of the storytelling itself. The film is saved by its being more entertaining and not, and never being less than charming, both in its ambition and in its color, anchored by performances which are more endearing than the roles they portray. Characterization isn't much of a priority to the storytelling of this flamboyant film, so material is limited arguably a touch more than the usual '50s flick, and there are a few mediocre performances to further challenge your investment, but what performances there are which charm are very charismatic, particularly when accompanied by some solid chemistry that makes this melodramatic affair a little easier to buy into. This story is always challenging, as it's so thin and contrived, yet just overblown enough for its interpretation to be meandering, and yet, it's almost Shakespearean flavor and culturally celebratory scope makes for an interesting idea that can be made or broken by the strengths of Camus', Vinicius de Moraes' and Jacques Viot's messy script, whose humor is reliant on subtle satire and wit, if not simply dated, and is therefore flat more often than it should be, but is still sharp enough with its wit to mark heights in a color that rarely falls in the meandering, yet fluffily drawn structural writing. There's plenty to complain about here, and not a whole lot to praise, and never all that highly, but with patience, one ought to find plenty to enjoy in this film, which entertains enough to endear, even if it by only so much. All in all, the film is draggy and even a little bland, and certainly rather unfocused, with thin characterization and contrivances behind a story too thin to handle all of the misguidance, which is challenged well enough by the colorful score work, visuals, direction, performances and writing which save Marcel Camus' "Black Orpheus" as an adequately entertaining, if challenging affair. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Sep 10, 2011
    Mythological love and chaos in the world's grandest carnival, Black Orpheus is a modern adaptation of the timeless tale of Orpheus and Eurydice that feasts on rhythm and visual splendor. Vibrant.
    Jan Marc M Super Reviewer

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