ORFEU NEGRO — 1959
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
In our present times of unconventional carnivalistic political campaigns, turning every day and every night deadly and brutal after the “Zeroes” in blue kill another Black man who had done nothing except being Black and refusing to obey an obviously openly racist order from a white blue officer who had no authority except that of his uniform, and that is in no way moral and ethical, and that “Zero” in blue in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot African American Jacob Blake in the back and left him paralyzed for life. In spite of what Vice President Pence’s mental and vocal pen may write or say or has actually said, the name of this “Zero” in Blue will never be remembered except as the author of a hate crime.
This is a cultish film today, a film about an old Greek myth transported to Brazil in the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro with a quasi entirely black cast. It has the qualities necessary to make it a very surprising and fascinating film.
First, the exotic place and the original event that are the complete set of the film, with the big city down by the coast and then the various neighborhoods, poor mostly, on the higher sections, in the hills or on the hillsides. The fact that the cast is practically all black makes the center of the film be where the blacks are living and working. Since Orfeo is a tram conductor, he is living close to the terminal of the tram line, hence in one black neighborhood that provides the main workers for the tram and the tram depot.
Eurydice is a girl from outside, running away from someone who wants to kill her. She comes here to live with her cousin who is the neighbor of Orfeo. Then what had to happen happened. The man who wants to kill Eurydice comes up in the carnival disguised as a skeleton and he is running after Eurydice as soon as he has found her and Orfeo is trying to follow them to get Eurydice out of his hands, but he fails. So, the killer succeeds, and Eurydice ends up suspended by her own hands on an electric wire, her feet touching some surface under her. The killer turns on the electricity and she dies and is taken away to the morgue.
Then Marcel Camus enjoys making Orfeo go up and down tall buildings looking for Eurydice’s body. After many attempts, he finally reaches the morgue and finds Eurydice’s body. He takes it and goes back up to his neighborhood.
During that time Orfeo’s wife, since he had gotten married just before these events, has become jealous and wants some vengeance. She attacks Orfeo carrying Eurydice’s body with stones and he steps back and back, and since he was walking on a path at the very edge of a great fall, in three steps backward he is down with Eurydice’s body and both are joined in death.
The interest of the film is also the music and the dancing of course since we are in Rio de Janeiro for the Carnival and we can just enjoy the rhythm of bossa nova and samba, and see the dancing of boys and girls, professionals or amateurs with enlightened amateurs between these two categories, giving the real three-tier society of Brazil, three tiers that are not racially defined but professionally defined, here choreographically defined. This is the result of the colonialization of Brazil by the Portuguese with a lot of black African slaves brought in to work in the plantations and other economic activities in Brazil.
The last interest is that some myths are eternal, and yet with every situation in which they are brought back, in every period they are brought back into, they are changed first of all to become realistic and second to become more effective on the emotions of people. That makes me think that the film was done for a popular audience because the myth itself is not exploited that much and the final twist makes it a little bit mellow and romantic. One more dramatic love story. But produced by a French Director in 1959, that was just the popular culture in France with photo-comics (or romans photo) like Nous Deux that were giving every week such mellow romantic love stories that the young ladies on the bus I took every day to go to and come back from my high school were reading at times collectively and aloud. That sounds slightly cheap and easy, but that was the popular culture of the time, and the film is just an illustration of this culture.
BIBLE OLD TESTAMENT,
BOOK OF DANIEL 5:1–5 & 25–29
The Writing on the Wall
1King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them.
2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father[a] had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.
3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them.
4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
5 Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.
25 “This is the inscription that was written:
mene, mene, tekel, parsin
26 “Here is what these words mean:
mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 parsin: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.
30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain,
31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.