When Black Orpheus won the Palme d’Or in 1959 ahead of the likes of 400 Blows and Hiroshima Mon Amour, it was a surprise to the say the least. In retrospect, it was an entirely foolish decision. However, Marcel Camus’ film was arguably the first to really showcase Rio’s Carnival and introduced bossa nova to the world. Based on Victor De Moraes play Orfeu da Conceição, Camus’ interpretation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice talks place in a favela.

Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira) can’t wait to get married. Orfeu (Breno Mello), on the other hand, is less than enthusiastic about the whole thing. One day, Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), a stranger on the run arriving in Rio to visit her cousin (Léa Garcia), rides his trolley. There’s an instant chemistry between the pair. However, Eurydice is fleeing from a stranger and fears for her life. That man is Death, dressed in a skeleton costume.

Largely made with unknown Brazilian actors, where Black Orpheus is truly successful is in spreading the music and spirit of Carnival across the world. The music is pulsating and hypnotic, but danger lurks amongst the crowds. In many ways, it has the feel of a stage play. The acting is impressive but seeing it now it jars slightly as a representation through European eyes. Black Orpheus is an interesting piece of film-making, as much of a film studies fascination as a compelling narrative work.

Special Features:

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Optional English-dubbed soundtrack
  • Archival interviews with director Marcel Camus and actress Marpessa Dawn
  • New video interviews with Brazilian cinema scholar Robert Stam, jazz historian Gary Giddins, and Brazilian author Ruy Castro
  • Looking for “Black Orpheus,” a French documentary about Black Orpheus’s cultural and musical roots and its resonance in Brazil today
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson

Black Orpheus is released on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as part of the Criterion Collection on Monday.