Orpheus (1950) and Black Orpheus (1959)

Orpheus is a French film directed by Jean Cocteau.  It is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set contemporaneously in France.  The movie begins in The Poet’s Café, where a bunch of hoodlum poets hang out. Orpheus (Jean Marais) is hated by the rest of the poets in the café, because his poetry is so much better than theirs. A fight breaks out among the poets, just the way you and I might get into a fight over some poems we had written. Other poets join in, and it becomes a riot. Orpheus is almost arrested, but the policeman lets him go when he realizes who he is. In fact, the policeman is surprised he didn’t recognize Orpheus, since there are lots of pictures of him in his wife’s room (Oh, brother!).

Anyway, Orpheus is a grouch who is mean to his wife, Eurydice (Marie Déa), but we are supposed to understand that he is a genius who has his moods, and so that makes it all right. Death (María Casares), in the form of a hot babe, kills Eurydice, and down she goes to Hades.  Instead of being grief stricken, however, Orpheus falls in love with Death. But he can’t get rid of his wife that easily. The old ball-and-chain is allowed to follow Orpheus back from the underworld to the surface as long as he does not look at her. Well, he never seemed to want to look at her when she was alive, so I don’t know why he would want to look at her now, but he does. In fact, he cares so little for her that I suspect he looked at her on purpose so he could be free to make it with Death, the hot babe.

And it almost works, except that we are then treated to an outrageous narrative rupture, in which Orpheus and Eurydice live happily ever after.

As for Black Orpheus, another French movie based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, if you decide to watch this one, I hope you like dancing, because that is what half the movie is, and it is monotonous, repetitive dancing to monotonous, repetitive music.

In this version of the myth, set in contemporary times in Rio de Janeiro, Orfeo (Breno Mello) asks his girlfriend Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira) to marry him, and then on the same day, he meets Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) and has sex with her. Then, instead of at least breaking off his engagement, he just dances with Eurydice at the carnival right in front of Mira. So, he’s a louse, right? Wrong. The movie wants us to like Orfeo and despise Mira. You figure it out.

Anyway, there is a guy running around with a death mask on who wants to kill Eurydice and eventually succeeds. We don’t know why, because she says she never had anything to do with him. I guess we are supposed to accept this as mythologically inevitable. Or, you can just assume the guy is wearing a hockey mask.


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