Black Orpheus| / Orfeu Negro, France 1959.

Screening on October 18th at 1.30 p.m.


This is an early success from the burgeoning art cinema of the late 1950s. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Set during the Rio de Janeiro Carnival it transposes the classic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice to that setting. The idea of such a mythic tale in one of the most famous and colourful events in Latin America was brilliant. And the film is well served by the fine colour cinematography of Jean Bourgoin. The film opts for a very simple depiction in terms of characters but the excitement of the masquerades, dance and music in the Carnival make it visually and orally compelling. There is though more than a trace of ‘exoticism’ in the representations.

The film is screening in its original format of 35mm, which should do proper justice to the stunning colour palette in which the drama is set. It was filmed in Eastmancolor, which sometimes suffers the ravages of time. Intriguingly for the date it was also filmed in the old Academy ratio, i.e. a nearly square frame. The language is Portuguese, though I think there was also some patois in there: it will have English sub-titles. On its original release in the UK it was certified as an A: now it is PG: ‘mild violence and sex references’ according to the BBFC. Note, two important characters are children and I thought they were very good.

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