The work of Marcel Camus is characterized by a lyricism which, although central to his fine films of the 1950s and 60s--"Fugitive in Saigon "(1957), "Black Orpheus" (1959) and "Vivre la nuit" (1968)--later deteriorated into superficial sentimentality.
Camus was a professor of painting and sculpture before breaking into film as an assistant to Alexandre Astruc, Georges Rouquier and Jacques Becker, among others. During this period he made his first film, a short documentary called "Renaissance du Havre" (1950).
Like many French filmmakers whose first chance to direct a feature came in the postwar era, Camus chose to deal explicitly with the issue of personal sacrifice in the context of war. But unlike most of his colleagues who quite naturally dealt with WWII, Camus took as his subject the war in Indochina. Based on a novel by Jean Hougron, "Fugitive in Saigon" depicts a village caught between two fronts. Its only possibility of survival involves the destruction of a dam on which it depends.
Camus then embarked on three films in collaboration with scenarist Jacques Viot. The first, "Black Orpheus", brought him international acclaim. Winner of the 1959 grand prize at Cannes and an Academy Award as best foreign language film, this exotic modern adaptation of the Greek legend portrays its Orpheus (Breno Mello) as a streetcar conductor who meets his Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) and lives out his legendary destiny during the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
The next two Camus-Viot collaborations, "Os Bandeirantes" (1960) and "Dragon Sky" (1962), were generally well received, but neither lived up to the expectations created by "Black Orpheus". "Vivre la nuit" (1968), an affecting portrait of nocturnal Paris, proved successful, but "Un ete sauvage" (1970) was generally recognized as an inauthentic and superficial evocation of young people on vacation in Saint-Tropez.
Camus then returned to the subject of war, this time with a gentle comedy about a Normandy restaurant owner who becomes a hero of the Resistance in spite of himself. "Le Mur de l'Atlantique" (1970) offered a rich role for comic actor Bourvil, but was essentially a routine commercial product. This unfortunate trend continued with "Otalia de Bahia" (1977), a spaghetti western titled "Trinita voit rouge" (1975) and some unexceptional work for French TV.