When the Brazilian film "Black Orpheus" (Orfeu Nefro) burst onto the screens of the United States it left the viewer dazzled by the artistry of its presentation, impressed by the natural beauty of Brazil and its people, and wholly captivated by the relentlessly rhythmic music of Rio.
The film was awarded the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959.
Without knowing it, viewers of "Black Orpheus" were seated at a preview of the musical style that, several years later, was to capture the United States, then Europe, then the entire Western World. The music of "Black Orpheus" was, plain and simple, early bossa nova. Its composers, Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim, along with the singer, Joao Gilberto, were the creators of bossa nova, and became the most popular musicians from Brazil when the bossa nova wave inundated American popular music.
"Black Orpheus" retells the Orpheus legend, bringing it into our time and setting it in the riotous pageantry of a carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
Orpheus, played by the strikingly handsome Breno Mello, is a tram conductor. Eurydice, enacted by the hauntingly beautiful Marpessa Dawn, is a girl from the country who is visiting her cousin in Rio during carnival time. The pair meet, are swept up in the gaiety and excitement of the celebration, and fall deeply in love. But the end is known, and the doomed lovers play out their roles, always haunted by the spectre of death in the midst of all this life, colour, and fun.