Orfeu
dir. Carlos Diegues
Opens Fri Oct 20 at Broadway Market.

AS A HUGE FAN of Marcel Camus' 1959 film Black Orpheus, I was thrilled to read the news in the Brazilian press of Carlos Diegues' Orfeu, a new, modern retelling of the Orpheus myth, set against the backdrop of the Brazilian Carnival. I heard that the film was a great success in Brazil, impressing the critics and playing to huge crowds, including several free showings in the slums where the film takes place. Amping up my anticipation was director Diegues' track record--he made the very good Xica da Silva and the perfectly fine Bye Bye Brasil--as well as the film's kick-ass soundtrack (featuring original compositions by Caetano Veloso), which found a semi-permanent home on my stereo.

But then I read an article by Veloso himself, in which he spoke about how much more truly Brazilian his new Orfeu was compared to my beloved Black Orpheus. Veloso dismissed Camus' film as a "caricature," and denounced it for its "voodoo for tourists" feel. Reading an artist who I admire tear apart a film I adore sucked. Even worse was hearing composer Veloso announce his suspicions of the motives of those foreign critics stupid enough to prefer Camus' original. (Was I some sort of creep for owning it on DVD?) I didn't want to be one of those stupid foreign critics who like the old one better. But I am.

Orfeu is not great. The story is muddled, and Diegues nearly overwhelms his story by cramming in an array of political issues, most of which are suspiciously weak. One example: The Orfeu character is a big rock star, yet he stays in the slums to show kids that you don't have to be a drug dealer to make a successful existence for yourself. You can be a one-in-a-million pop star and have a computerized recording studio and a fucking cool wardrobe! See? There are realistic options to crime!

The acting is not much better. When he plays Orfeu as a cocky, in-love-with-himself pop musician, Toni Garrido is believable--maybe because in real life he's a cocky, in-love-with-himself pop musician. But when Garrido is required to display his love for Eurídice, he falters; his Orfeu just doesn't seem to have room in his world for anyone else.

As Eurídice, poor Patrícia França has so little to work with you wonder why she even bothered to show up. França spends most of her screen time walking around alone in a pink dress while Orfeu preens. But the absolute worst of the bunch is the guy who plays Orfeu's childhood friend, who grows up to be the slum's drug kingpin and Orfeu's foil. To paraphrase Dennis Miller, this guy's so stiff he makes Al Gore look like an auto-fellatio expert.

Still, it's not all bad. There are some great shots of Rio, and as I already mentioned, the soundtrack is quite good. But that's about it.

For a second opinion on what was to me a deeply disappointing cinematic experience, I called a friend who comes from the slums where Orfeu takes place, and asked if she liked the film. She said she thought it was very accurate and true to life. She hoped foreigners would watch the film so "people would really know what happens in the slums of Rio, that Brazil isn't just a party place where everybody is dancing and singing all the time." I told her that I think the world already knows that. When I watch the original Black Orpheus, I don't think I'm watching a documentary on the culture of Brazil. I'm simply watching a remarkably beautiful film. Black Orpheus is a gorgeous, heartbreaking dream, and Orfeu is a Brazilian after-school special with great music.

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