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* * * 1/2 “Black Orpheus.”
Connoisseur . $79.95. 1958 .
The major art-movie hit of its day--winner of the foreign film Oscar and the grand prize of both the Cannes and Venice festivals--Marcel Camus’ 1958 second feature has survived the near eclipse of its director’s reputation. Its timing was expert. Educated audiences in the civil-rights era appreciated its almost all-black cast (headed by Breno Mello and the hauntingly lovely Marpessa Dawn); its dazzling Rio de Janeiro scenery (Jean Bourgoin’s serenely lit mountainside shots); the juxtaposition of ancient cultural motifs (the Orpheus/Eurydice legend) and carnival lowlife; and, above all, the pulsating, throbbingly rhythmic, virtually nonstop samba-laden score by the then-unknown Brazilian composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa. The film may have its moments of awkwardness or naivete--the horror-movie interlude in “Hell,” for example--but it still casts a spell.