Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus)


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This movie launched the Bossa Nova craze of the late 1950's and early 1960's (and taught everyone to Samba) while introducing the impossibly lovely (and American born) Marpessa Dawn to the world. Causing unwholesome thoughts in the minds of men and teenage boys alike. And changed overnight Brazil's image from that of a stereotyped "south of the border" campy Carmen Miranda styled musical backdrop, to that of a (somewhat less stereotypical) colorful Carnival dance-driven, sensually alluring tropical paradise.

As with many great movies, this is a reinterpretation of an ancient tale, "Orpheus and Eurydice," or more precisely an adaptation of the play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes. However, unlike most retellings of dusty old Greek tragedies or dogeared Shakespearean dramas your patience won't be tested by pretentious overtones, but instead, you will immediately appreciate this lush, atmospheric work of art by director Marcel Camus. While some have since suggested this movie suffers from dated images of favelas (Brazilian slums) depicting the citizens as simple, and as such, perpetuating prejudices and negative images, this may be more the fault of too few works telling the many-layered stories of the African Diaspora through cinema, and less the fault of a single, perhaps flawed, but still visually beautiful, musically seductive 1959 film. Decades later, Orfeu Negro is still a special treat.
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