Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) (1958)




Director:  Marcel Camus.

Starring:  Breno Mello (Orfeo), Marpessa Dawn (Eurydice), Lourdes de Oliveira (Mira), Léa Garcia (Serafina), Ademar Da Silva (Death), Alexandro Constantino (Hermes), Waldemar De Souza (Chico), Jorge Dos Santos (Benedito), Aurino Cassiano (Zeca).

life amidst the minorities in Brazil and their deep involvement in Carnival


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Women walk uphill carrying water for their families in the favela.  One of these women is Serafina.  Young boys are busy flying kites.  Serafina's place overlooks much of the city.  A ferry docks.  On board there is a samba band and many people are moving to the music.  The ferry lands, but people are still dancing to the samba beat.  A young woman gets caught up amidst the dancers and has a hard time getting out.  She does get out and asks a policeman for directions since she doesn't know Rio. 

Downtown there is a parade in progress.  Party revelers are hanging off the completely full street cars.  The street car conductor, named Orpheus, notices the pretty woman and invites her onto the street car, but the woman just keeps walking.  One of the the revelers grabs the woman and hoists her onto the side of the street car.  At the end of his shift Orpheus returns to the station from which he started.  He finds the young woman still on the street car.  She explains that she was told to stay on until the end of the line.  Orpheus explains that this is the end of the line.  She is looking for her cousin.  Orpheus calls out to an older man named Hermes to help the young lady find her cousin.  Orpheus explains that he has to go get his paycheck. 

The guys at the pay window tease him about getting still another girl and they warn him that he better watch out because Mira is in the vicinity.  Orpheus dismisses their talk by saying that the young girl is too naive for him.  Mira shows up.  She is dressed as if going to a night club with a low cut dress and high heels.  Meanwhile, Hermes sends the young lady off after giving her directions to her cousin's house.   

Mira goes over to Orpheus and says that he is loaded with money and she wants to see it.  Orpheus ignores her and sticks his money in his jacket pocket.  He next talks to Hermes about the young lady asking him to agree with him that she is very cute.  Mira gets jealous and asks:  "What about me?  Let's go!"  But Orpheus still has his mind on the other woman. 

At Serfafina's place there is a knock on the door.  Serafina rushes over there because she is expecting her beloved Chico Boto.  But at the door is her cousin instead.  Serafina is disappointed and explains why. Serafina's cousin says she ran away from home.  She starts crying and Serafina gives her a big hug.  

Mira takes Orpheus to the marriage license bureau.   They want to get married.  The clerks asks for their names.  Orpheus gives his name and the clerk says that this means that the woman must be named Eurydice (as in Greek mythology).  This makes Mira jealous and angry.  Orpheus tells the clerk he doesn't know any Eurydice.  The clerk says the name is from an old story and he was just kidding around. 

Coming out of the building, Mira starts dancing with some other samba dancers and she attracts the attention of many men.  Orpheus doesn't like this and he shouts to Mira:  "Let's go, Mira."  Mira tells Orpheus that now he has to buy her a ring, but Orpheus just wants to get his guitar out of hoc.  He says he has no money for a ring, so Mira offers to lend him the money.  Orpheus likes this idea.  Mira tells him that he will have to go and pick out the ring for her and then give it to her. 

Orpheus picks up his guitar from the pawn shop.  While at the shop another man puts a great deal of pressure on Orpheus to buy his phonograph.  Orpheus gives the man his money just to get rid of him.  He doesn't want the phonograph, but the man insists that he must keep it now that he has bought it.  Mira laughs at him carrying the big phonograph.  She takes the phonograph from him and just hands it off to someone in the crowd.  Orpheus gives her the ring and Mira reminds him that he owes her 110 bucks. 

Carnival starts tomorrow.  Serafina just bought herself a gold costume dress for the big celebrations.   The cousin explains that a man kept coming to their farm and she is sure he wants to kill her.   Serafina asks if the man knows where she is and cousin say no.  Then everything's alright, says Serafina.  The two women go for a walk.  Neither of them have any money.  The little boy Benedito likes the way the cousin looks and gives her something.  The cousin says her name is Eurydice. 

The cousins go to se the Portuguese grocer who will give them food without paying in exchange for some kisses.  Serafina sees Orpheus and Mira coming toward the grocery store.  She goes over to Orpheus and teases him about getting married.  She then asks him if he wants her to get rid of Mira for awhile?  He nods yes and Serafina sets to work.  She goes over to Mira and keeps hugging and congratulating her on her upcoming wedding, while all the while keeping Mira's back to Orpheus.  Serafina motions to Orpheus to get going. 

Orpheus starts to go up the hill, but another pretty woman stops to ask him what's going on?  He beats a retreat around a building.  When the coast is clear, he starts going up the hill again.  Mira wants to find Orpheus, but Serafina says that Orpheus told her that they will meet at the carnival rehearsal.  Orpheus goes into Serafina's hut.  Benedito and his friend Zeca come in to ask Orpheus is it true that he can make the sun rise with the playing of his guitar?  Orpheus laughs.  He tells the boys that he will play a new song he wrote for the big celebrations tomorrow and onwards. 

Eurydice comes into the house and is entranced by the music.  She starts dancing to it.  Orpheus has to make a run for it because two women are fighting over him just outside the hut.  The two women come into the hut and ask where is Orpheus?  Zeca tells them he went that away with a woman.  This angers the women and they hurry off in pursuit of Orpheus.  Zeca starts slowly playing the song he just heard Orpheus playing. Now Orpheus sees Eurydice and he asks her what she is doing here of all places?  Then he realizes that she is Serafina's cousin.  He turns on his charm, but Eurydice says she doesn't like him, even though her face says she does.

Orpheus starts telling her the story of Orpheus and Eurydice and attempts to kiss the young cousin, but she just pushes him away.  She does, however, tell him that she really likes his song and her eyes start filling up with tears.  She leaves the hut.  Orpheus follows her.  He has seen that she is very sensitive, so he approaches her now not with bluster but with gentleness.  He touches her hand slowly and then lays his head on her hand.  Eurydice is touched by this and she runs her fingers through his hair.  The moment is broken up by the boys who tell Orpheus that they are waiting for him to come to rehearsal.  He tells Benedito to take care of Eurydice and tells Eurydice he will see her later.

At rehearsal Serafina and Mira are dancing up a storm.  Orpheus joins in and dances the samba with Serafina.  Mira dances over to Orpheus and asks him why is he paying her no attention?  He tells her to go back to her place.  Benedito and Eurydice watch the dance rehearsal.  She is very happy until she hears from the boy that Mira is the fiancée of Orpheus.  Beneditio says that at this point in the rehearsal Orpheus will kiss Mira.  But Orpheus avoids the kiss.  Mira asks why didn't he kiss her, but Orpheus just dismisses her.  

Orpheus now dances over to Eurydice and she starts dancing with him.  A lot of people crowd around the two dancers, who are having a terrific time.  Orpheus takes her over to get a costume for her.  Serafina arrives and wants to introduce her cousin to Orpheus.  He says he already knows her.  Serafina can see by the look in his eyes that he has a real fondness for her cousin.  She goes over to be with the rest of the women to help Eurydice be fitted into a costume. 

Zeca comes into the costume room with the message that a man is looking for Eurydice.  This scares Eurydice for she fears it's the man she thinks wants to kill her.  Serafina tries to calm her cousin and tells Zeca to tell the stranger that Eurydice has already left.  Just then a man in a skeleton costume opens up a window so Eurydice can see him really well.  The poor girls panics with fear.  Orpheus grabs her saying there is nothing to fear, but Eurydice knows there is and she breaks away from him and runs.  Orpheus runs out of the costume room to see if he can find Mr. skeleton man.  Mira arrives and learns that the cousin of Serafina is none other than a woman known as Eurydice.  This stuns Mira and she starts shouting for Orpheus.  

The only person Orpheus finds is a bloody Benedito.  He chased after the man and the man pushed him down and he hit his head.  Zeca tells Orpheus the direction in which the skeleton man went.  Eurydice runs back to the house.  Inside is Serafina's boyfriend, who is a sailor.  He stretches and yawns and Eurydice sees his shadow on the curtain in the house.  Scared again, she runs out of the house.  Serafina arrives and she scolds her boyfriend for scaring Serafina, even though that was not his intention.  Orpheus arrives asking where is Eurydice.  The sailor tells him Eurydice went that way.  Off goes Orpheus.  Relaxing now, Serafina fully realizes that this sailor is her boyfriend that she has been dying to see.  Now she gives him a warm greeting, hugs and knocks him onto to the bed while saying:  "Chico, my love!" 

Orpheus is chasing Eurydice now, but she doesn't know it's Orpheus.  She passes a huge boulder and the skeleton man appears.  Skelton man sees Eurydice and goes to grab her.  Orpheus drops down in front of skeleton man and draws his knife.  Eurydice shouts that the man will kill Orpheus.  She runs over and hugs Eurydice.  She faints.  Skelton man tells Orpheus to take good care of her.  He is in no hurry.  And he will be back. The mystery man then leaves.

Eurydice awakens while being carried to safety by Orpheus.  She hears him saying he will always protect her.  She smiles and hugs his neck.  He takes her home and lays her in bed.  Serafina hears them talking and starts to listen, but Chico won't let her stay still long enough.  Orpheus kisses the hand of Eurydice and says good night.  He tells her that he will sleep just outside the door.  Orpheus now goes out and lays in the hammock just a short distance from the open door.  Serafina and Chico carry on for a little while longer and then they turn the lights out.  Orpheus can't sleep and neither can Eurydice.  They both get up and kiss each other.  They spend the night together. 

Zeca returns the guitar to Orpheus, who starts singing his new song to Eurydice while strumming on the guitar.  As he sings the two boys see the sun coming up. 

Everyone is gathering for the carnival festivities.  Serafina tells Eurydice to hurry and help her put on her costume.  While putting on her costume, Serafina decides to let her cousin wear the costume instead and take Serafina's place in the carnival parade.  Mira arrives to see Orpheus.  Again he ignores her.  Mira gets angry and tears up the scarf that Eurydice gave to Orpheus.  And she starts shouting.  She now threatens that if she sees that girl again she is going to kill her.  They are interrupted by the arrival of Benedito and Zeca.  Mira leaves. 

Serafina tells her cousin that Mira is going to get angry if she sees Eurydice in costume taking the place of Serafina.  She tells Eurydice to keep her costume veil over her face at all times.  Serafina even awakens Chico to have him kiss her cousin goodbye at the door so Mira will see it.  Now the samba group makes its way down hill to the samba beat of the band.  Benedito comes to tell Serafina to come along, but it's not Serafina he is talking to.  Eurydice lifts the veil to show Beneditio.  She also tells Benedito that this is a secret that only he and Orpheus can no.  Beneditio says he will run and tell Orpheus about the switch. 

Downtown the streets are deeming with people.  As the parade proceeds people start clapping for their favorite samba schools. 

At night the festivities are still going strong, if not stronger.  Benedito runs around to find his friend Zeca.  Mira sees Orpheus dancing with Serafina and she doesn't like it.  And she's going to do something about it, but a man grabs her saying that they have to get started on their next performance.  The announcer shouts out:  "Here comes Babylon United Samba School!"   This is Orpheus's samba school.  Nearby is the skeleton man watching the group.  Orpheus, Mira and Eurydice dance in front of the group.  While the dancing continues, Mira asks Orpheus if he loves her?  He just tells her to get back to her spot.  She tells him to answer her question.  He says he was going to explain, but now it's too late.

Skeleton man keeps looking for Eurydice, but can't find her.  Still looking he sees Serafina in the crowd cheering on her samba school.  So now he figures out from the huge smile on the face of Orpheus that the woman dancing with Orpheus must be Eurydice. Benedito sees the skeleton man in the crowd.  Eurydice loses her amulet and raises her veil to look for it.  Benedito retrieves it, but it is broken.  The boy keeps an eye on skeleton man, who Benedito just calls death.  And now Orpheus is called up to the Jury stand.  Mira sees Serafina in the crowd, so now she rushes over to the veiled woman and pulls her veil and hat off.  Mira grabs the young woman by the throat and tries to choke her to death.  A dancer and some policemen intervene and Eurydice is able to get away from Mira.  Mira grabs a piece of metal with which to cut Eurydice's face.  Eurydice runs into the arms of a man that she thinks is Orpheus, but it's really her potential killer.  The fellow lets Eurydice go  in order to grab the piece of metal out of the hand of Mira.  He takes it from Mira, who spits in his masked face.  Skeleton man now just pushes Mira to the ground. 

Eurydice keeps running and gets caught up again in a circle of samba school dancers.  Hermes sees Eurydice in the crowd and goes to her.  As she grabs onto him in fear, he tells her to calm down. She cries that the man is going to kill her.  Hermes tells her to go to his house and stay there, while he looks for Orpheus to tell him what happened.  Eurydice goes.  Skeleton man still follows her.  She soon spots the man and starts running inside a street car building, hiding among the street cars and the repair bays.  She keeps running and then climbs to a second floor.  The man is still there chasing her.  She jumps onto the roof of a street car and holds onto the wire overhead.  Orpheus arrives and screams her name.  He turns on some lights but the electricity goes through Eurydice, knocking her unconscious.  She slides off the roof and onto the ground.  Orpheus runs to her, but skeleton man jumps in front of him saying:  "Now, she's mine!"  He then proceeds to knock Orpheus out with a hard punch to the face.

Death (skeleton man) rides the ambulance headed through the samba crowds.  Orpheus is being seen by a doctor.  Hermes and/or Benedito must have found him.  Hermes tells the boy that Orpheus is going to be alright.  The patient wakes up and immediately calls out for Eurydice and runs to find her. Hermes tells him that Eurydice is dead.  Orpheus refuses to believe it, but the doctor confirms it by saying that her body has already been taken to the morgue.   Orpheus denies it and takes off looking for her.  Benedito runs after Orpheus and catches him.  They walk among the many revelers sleeping on the ground.  They walk to the hospital emergency room.  He looks at the different bodies there.  The medical people try to chase him away, but he sees a blue veil and thinks it belongs to Eurydice.  He runs up the stairs only to find a patient that is not Eurydice being helped by two nurses.  The nurses tell him he must leave.  Orpheus and Benedito leave the hospital.  Benedito begs him not to be sad.  The police arrive and throw a bunch of party revelers into their paddy wagon.  They start to grab Orpheus, but one of the policemen recognizes Orpheus from his performance.  Orpheus tells the policeman that he is looking for a lost person and the policeman shows him the way to the twelfth floor for lost persons.  Benedito tries to go with Orpheus but the policeman chases him away.

On the twelfth floor a janitor tells Orpheus that Missing Persons is just one stack after another of forms filled out to look for different people.  He says the building is full of paper, all 15 floors.  Discouraged, Orpheus bows his head in despair.  He tells the janitor:  "I lost Eurydice.  It's as if she were burning inside my heart."  The janitor feels bad for Orpheus and tells him to come with him.  They go outside and into a church.  A German shepherd guard dog keeps Benedito from following them. 

The janitor takes Orpheus to an unorthodox church where people are singing and dancing to a steady drum beat.  All of a sudden one of the women acts as if she is possessed, screaming and yelling.  The janitor says the woman "caught the spirit".  He now tells Orpheus to call out for Eurydice and then he tells him to sing out with the women.  Orpheus is concentrating as hard as he can and doing what the janitor told him to when he hears a voice calling him.  He looks around for Eurydice, but the voice says:  "Don't look back Orpheus.  You will never see me again."  The voice tells him she is near to him.  He looks around and sees that the voice is coming from an old woman.  Orpheus thinks he's been tricked and runs out of the church.  Outside Orpheus falls to the ground.  Benedito and Hermes are there to help him. 

Hermes tells Orpheus to use the poor man's word:  thanks.  He must go and thank Eurydice.  Hermes has arranged for Orpheus to pick up the body of his beloved Eurydice.  He looks through the most recent bodies brought in and finds the body of Eurydice.  He carries the body through the streets talking to her.  He climbs up the mountain and goes over to a cliff.  There he sees a hut burning and Mira charges him while throwing rocks at him. She hits Eurydice in the head and over the cliff go Orpheus and the body of Eurydice.  Mira screams in pain for what she has just done.

Benedito grabs Opheus's guitar and has Zeca play to make the sun rise.  The sun does rise.  And now Benedito and a pretty little girl say that Zeca is the new Orpheus.  The girl gives a flower to Zeca and asks him to play a song for her.  The girl then dances the samba to the music.  Now they all dance and sing la-la-la along with the song. 


Very good movie inspired by the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.  It's a good love story, but sad.  What I really like most about the film is how it tells the viewer all about the importance of carnival and the samba schools that participate in it.  This particular samba school is mostly black and poor living in one of what the Americans would call ghettos, but are called favelas in Brazil.  The favelas in Rio are set on tall hills or small mountains and the higher up one goes, the worse the conditions of living are.  They say that even the police are afraid to go to the top of the favelas because it is just too dangerous.  Since the people of the Babylon United Samba School are way on top of the mountain, we can safely assume that they are very poor. 

What a great slice of Brazilian life the film presents to the viewer.  It shows the audience the costumes, the rehearsals and the participation in the carnival parade in Rio. It also emphasizes the importance of these samba schools to the people who belong to them.    

I think the actors were really good in their parts.  Lourdes de Oliveira as Mira was lovely and sexy.  The main song in the movie is very good too. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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