Dir: Carlos Diegues. Brazil. 1999. 110 mins.
Prod co: Rio Vermelho. Co-prod: Globo. Int'l Sales: TFI International (33) 1 41 41 35 32. Prods: Renata de Almeida Magalhaes, Paula Lavigne. Scr: Diegues, with the collaboration of Hermano Vianna, Hamilton Vaz Pereira, Paulo Lins and Joao Emanuel Carneiro, based on the play by Vinicius de Moraes. Dop: Affonso Beato. Prod des: Clovis Bueno. Ed: Sergio Mekler. Music: Caetano Veloso. Main cast: Toni Garrido, Patricia Franca, Murilo Benicio, Zeze Motta, Milton Goncalves.
It is by no means clear why Diegues has decided to film De Moraes's musical play transferring the Orpheus and Eurydice legend to the Rio De Janeiro carnival, given that a perfectly good movie - Marcel Camus's Oscar-winning 1959 Black Orpheus - has already been made from exactly the same idea.
Despite the rich possibilities of its colourful setting, which constitutes this new version's main selling point, it's a visually dull piece with little in the way of grand passion or mythical poetry. Lacking the spark to launch it on an international arthouse career, the festival circuit and Latin American markets would seem its likeliest outlets.
In Diegues' telling of the story, Orfeu (Garrido), a vain and womanising singer-songwriter based in the slums of the city, is preparing for the carnival, where his sambas regularly win the main prize. Despite her initial suspicion and resistance to the shallow charmer, Euridice (Franca), a country girl visiting her aunt, falls for Orfeu's charms. But the couple becomes caught up in the criminal affairs of Lucinho (Benicio), one of Orfeu's childhood friends who is now a drug dealer.
The multi-authored script is surprisingly uninventive in its approach to modernising the ancient myth - it finds no equivalent, for instance, for Orfeu's journey into the underworld, which one might have expected to be a key component of the story. It also throws away what should have been its trump card, containing virtually no footage of the gorgeous samba school costumes and displays of spectacular music and dance. Pop star Garrido displays a persuasive charisma in the title role, but there's little chemistry between him and the attractive but listless Franca. Technical credits are no more than adequate.