Starring: Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn
Director: Marcel Camus
Distributor: Umbrella Entertainment
Anyone familiar with ancient Greek mythology will know the tragic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. In a nutshell: the son of Apollo falls hard for an aristocratic beauty, she dies, he goes down into the underworld to find her, everything ends badly. In 1954 Brazilian composer Vinicius De Moraes wrote an inventive musical transposing the myth to contemporary Rio De Janeiro in the throes of Carnival. Five years later French director Marcel Camus adapted it for the screen using that city’s spectacular vertiginous slopes as his setting, the harbour glistening below like a romantic dream.
With shades of Les Enfants du Paradis, the lovers (now a tram driving lady killer and a runaway country lass) become lost in the midst of the celebrations, surrounded by elaborately costumed samba dancers lost in the sheer ecstasy of their gyrations. In his golden Sun God outfit, Orpheus finds himself in Rio’s Bureau of Missing Persons confronted with piles of pointless paper. A philosophical cleaner leads him down a seemingly bottomless circular staircase to a ritualistic ceremony where some black magic conjures up his love in a most unexpected fashion.
The naturally vibrant performances make this film more than just a retelling of a dusty old story. Brazilian soccer star Breno Mello shines as the man who the street kids believe makes the sun rise every day with his guitar playing, and Pittsburgh dancer Marpessa Dawn simply radiates as Eurydice. Lourdes de Oliveira is also a stand out as Orpheus’ betrothed, the sexy little vixen Mira-boy, can she shake her booty! And finally Lea Garcia as Eurydice’s cousin Serafina, a girl as vital as life itself.
Top all this off with a score by the legendary kings of Bossa Nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa, and you have a colourful Palm D’Or and Academy Award winning classic that captures a spirit of Rio long passed.