‘Orpheus’ rises with doc, Obama ties

Brazilian pair make film about local hero

He played with the legendary Brazilian soccer genius Pele before turning to film and playing the lead in “Black Orpheus” — which won the Palme d’Or 50 years ago and an Oscar in 1960.

After a short cinematic career he quit to pursue a different path that finally led him to a modest home and a life of poverty near the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.

And Breno Mello — whose perf in Marcel Camus’ retelling of the story of the star-crossed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice captivated audiences — was the black actor  without whom, just possibly, U.S. President Barack Obama may never have been born.

Now Brazilian filmmakers Alex Derlam and Rene Goya are making a doc about the man of remarkable talents who came from poverty, shone briefly and then returned to reclusive obscurity.

Helped by a Cannes writer and singer-composer Jean Phillipe, a former reporter who has covered the fest for many years, “A Descoberta de Orfeu” (Orpheus’ Discovery) traces Mello’s life.

“I worked as a consultant on a French documentary film, ‘A La Recherche D’Orfeu Negro,’ about ‘Black Orpheus,’ in 2004-2005. Breno Mello was not the subject of the film and in Brazil we were told he was dead, but I didn’t accept that and tracked him down,” Phillipe said.

Using all his Cannes contacts — and government connections in Brazil — Phillipe overcame great odds to bring Mello back to Cannes in 2005 where, remarkably, Pele was also a guest. The two Brazilians had an emotional reunion.

Phillipetracked down Mello in just two months, prompting three years of filming with an initially reluctant Mello. His research also turned up a remarkable link to Barack Obama.

“In his autobiography ‘Dreams of My Father,’ Obama recalls his mother taking him to see ‘Black Orpheus’ — a film she had seen as a young woman — and there is a strong hint that Breno Mello’s performance was a key influence on her later decision to marry a black Kenyan,” said Phillipe. “In effect our film is about a man and a film without whom Barack Obama may never have been born.”

Phillipe, who is repping the doc at Cannes, says the filmmakers are looking for co-producers to complete the film.

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