Black Orpheus is an extraordinary colourful and happy film. It bursts with energy and a life that sweeps one up into the sunny spirit and the vitality of the carnival dance. This films crime is that perhaps it is overly long, taking fully three-quarters of the running time before we enter the Underworld. Many of the scenes in the first three-quarters, particularly the low comedy relief of the running plot about Serafina, who is played by Lea Garcia in a manner that is eye-bulgingly OTT in its happiness, and her rather thick sailor lover, could have been dropped without any notice.
However, it is during the Underworld sequences that the film attains moments of considerable brilliance. Orpheuss search for Eurydice takes him to the Missing Persons Department, which in a superbly Kafka-esque metaphor, is described as eighteen floors of paper but there are no lost people here. In other modern interpolations, Cerberus becomes a guard dog. The most striking and radical of the updates is the recalling of Eurydice which occurs at what seems a cross between a voodoo ceremony and a revivalist meeting where Orpheus is asked to sing her spirit answers him telling him not to look back, but when he inevitably does look all that is talking to him is a woman possessed by Eurydices spirit. It is a stunning revision of the myth.
The final coda is genuinely touching Orpheus carries Eurydices body away but a stone thrown by the jealous Mira knocks him over a cliff to his death, while back up on the cliff top the young child Benedetto takes Orpheuss guitar and starts playing while his two young companions dance. It is an affecting reaffirmation of life the Latin American way that despite tragedy the dance of life goes on.
The film was remade as the interesting Orfeu (1999), which updated and politicised the story, relocating it in the Brazilian slums amid drug lords, vigilante mob killings and police corruption. Oddly, while this is an interesting film, it drops the journey into the underworld and contains no fantastic elements.