Q: Why is the art of suspense used in films? How has it been successful/not successful?
A: Although Mystery and Horror genres are spotlighted for their use of intrigue, the art of suspense is present in virtually every genre of film. It has a mesmerizing effect when it’s applied to the Romance genre (for example). There’s a thrill in watching romantic movies and anticipating electric trysts — wondering if new couplings will bear static or clarity as the screen fades to black.
To demonstrate my point, I’ll look at two romantic-suspense films whose mysteries are intensified by tropical climates: Black Orpheus (dir. Marcel Camus, 1959) and Moko Jumbie (dir. Vashti Anderson, 2017). These consanguineous stories are each haunted by probable death, so their suspense lies in how lovers resist or succumb to their mortalities.
**Hyperlinks may contain spoilers
Black Orpheus (1959)
This film doesn’t pretend favela residents have it easy in Rio de Janeiro, but its bubbly aura makes them enviable. Despite money troubles, the characters emanate joies de vivre — glowing in golden sunlight, glinting in silver moonlight, and samba dancing across hilly terrain. Nearly every character is rushing around — securing extravagant outfits for their annual Carnival celebration, and having youthful love affairs.
The film’s principal couple are Orpheus (Breno Mello) and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn). Though they aren’t technically an official item (it’s a serious situationship), the whole world knows they’re fated for each other before they’ve even met, and chance encounters bring them together. If not for Orpheus’s possessive fiancé and the bad omen that trails Eurydice, it would seem that nothing could get in the way of their love.
If you’re familiar with the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, you can make solid predictions about this film’s ending — but given the setting and identity revisions of the adaptation, who’s to say its outcome doesn’t differ from the original myth? (I won’t give it away.)
Moko Jumbie is a clear descendent of Black Orpheus, though (as its title suggests) it’s more inclined to diverge from Greek mythology’s blueprint — tapping Caribbean and English folklore. Jumbie is set in Trinidad, and it captures the heated mistrust between an affluent Indian family and their African tenants.
This film magnifies Orpheus’s allusions to ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ (Ovid’s precursor to Romeo and Juliet). While Orpheus only borrows Ovid’s plot as far as its ‘ill-fated lovers’ theme, Jumbie takes on the added scandal of adversarial families (whose conflicts are rooted in Caribbean histories of colorcastes and ethnic hierarchies). The family feud escalates over the course of the film, and you can’t be sure of how it’s swayed the young couple (Asha, played by Vana Girod, and Roger, played by Jeremy Thomas) until the final scene.
In addition to reworking Orpheus’s mythological basis, Jumbie is much bolder in its application of magic. Spirits are an explicated part of the film’s world-building, and the characters’ access to magic is no secret. The film’s mystery lies not in the reality of magic (which is a given), but in Asha’s indetermination to take advantage of the feminine power her body has always retained.
Like Orpheus’s Eurydice, Asha is trailed by a fearsome, ghostly presence (and dodging this underworldly, Carnival-ready phantom sometimes distracts from romance with Roger). Unlike Eurydice, it’s evident that Asha is not powerless — even if she is fearful.
**Moko Jumbie can be streamed for free on Tubi
Conclusion: Both Black Orpheus and Moko Jumbie enchant viewers by prolonging romantic destinies. Despite our grimmest suspicions, they convince us to root for the lovers. If you’re in the mood for enrapturing, star-crossed romance, these films pair well together.
Liza Wemakor is a Fall 2020 film analysis intern. In addition to her interest in microcosmic films, she is a student of Black American literature and speculative fiction writing. Her hometowns are Syracuse, NY and Atlanta, GA.