Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) is a 1959 film made in Brazil by French director Marcel Camus and starring Marpessa Dawn and Breno Mello. It is based on the play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes, which is an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in the modern context of a favela in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. The film was an international co-production between production companies in Brazil, France and Italy.
The film is particularly noted for its soundtrack by two Brazilian composers: Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose song “A felicidade” opens the film; and Luiz Bonfá, whose “Manhã de Carnaval” and “Samba of Orpheus” have become bossa nova classics. The songs sung by the character Orfeu were dubbed by singer Agostinho dos Santos.
Black Orpheus won the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the 1960 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film and the 1961 BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In the last case, Brazil was credited together with France and Italy.
Obama, however, didn’t share his mother’s preferences upon first watching the film during his first years at Columbia University: “I suddenly realized that the depiction of the childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad’s dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white, middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different.”
Marcel Camus (1912 – 1982) was a French film director, best known for Orfeu Negro.
Camus was born in Chappes, Ardennes, France and died in Paris. He studied art and intended to become an art teacher. However, World War II interrupted his plans. He spent part of the war in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
In 1960, Camus made a second Brazlilian-themed film, Os bandeirantes. Twenty years after Orfeu Negro, Camus returned to Brazilian themes for what would prove to be his last film, Bahia (also known as Otalia da Bahia and Os pastores da noite), based on a novel by Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado. These films, however, failed to recapture the success of Orfeu Negro. In 1970, Camus had a moderate success with a World War II comedy, Le Mur de l’Atlantique (The Atlantic Wall), starring the well-known French comedian Bourvil. Camus ended his career working primarily in television.
Camus married one of the stars of Orfeu Negro, Marpessa Dawn.