Winner of the 1959 Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this retelling of the Orpheus story in carnival-thronged Rio hasn’t altogether escaped the ravages of time. Although Marcel Camus’ film sprang from contemporary currents in Brazil (based on a theatre piece by Vinicius de Moraes, and gaining immeasurably from its classic samba score by fresh talents Luiz Bonfá and Antonio Carlos Jobim), it’s still hard to escape the suspicion that the French director is exploiting the abundant local colour for his own purposes. That said, his largely non-professional cast acquit themselves with an appealing sincerity as handsome trolleybus conductor Orfeu (Breno Mello) falls for visiting innocent Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), despite the fact he’s engaged to the brazen Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). Romantic intrigue soon gives way to an altogether darker mood though, as Orfeu finds himself unable to protect his new love from the unwelcome attentions of a dark stranger, who makes his fatal strike while the carnival’s at its height and his skeleton outfit blends right in.It’s a film that improves as it goes along, the clunky comedy of the happy favelas eclipsed by an imaginative transposition of the Orphic legend, cleverly using locations such as the city’s missing-persons bureau and a Macumba ceremony seemingly halfway between revivalist meeting and voodoo frenzy. Presumably, this ethnographic aspect impressed at the time, but nowadays it’s the incredibly rich whirl of colour and movement captured by Jean Bourgoin’s gorgeous cinematography and the timelessly appealing soundtrack (inspiration for a subsequent generation of jazzmen) that continue to cast a spell. A mixed bag then, but the highlights are memorable.