Black Orpheus was something of a phenomenon of its time, an international success with a best-selling soundtrack that was crucial to launching a bossa nova craze in the United States. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Since then, the novelty of seeing Rio de Janeiro's Carnival played out backed by the strains of seductive Brazilian jazz has worn off, revealing a winningly energetic movie with some noticeable faults. Director Marcel Camus reworks the Orpheus myth for no discernible reason, and while the straightforward transliteration is agreeably unpretentious, he doesn't add much to the story. The Technicolor cinematography is notable for its vivacious use of saturated colors and real-life location shooting in Rio's favelas and mountainous countryside. The choreography of people and color in front of the camera is well executed, but not much is done with the camera itself. There is little movement and the action occasionally feels constrained by the frame. During moments of play, when the characters are flirting, dancing, or playing music, the filmmaking gels into a sensual reverie, but in moments of seriousness the movie feels rather pedestrian, and the actors in particular are drab and unconvincing. However, time has not effected Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa's charming samba score and it's hard to be too disappointed in a movie that begins and ends with the upward lilt of "Samba de Orfeo."
by Michael Buening review