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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Carmen (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 17, 2023

CARMEN (2023)

Starring Melissa Barrera, Paul Mescal, Rossy de Palma, Elsa Pataky, Nicole da Silva, Tara Morice, Richard Brancatisano, Benedict Hardie, Kaan Guldur, Nico Cortez, Pip Edwards, Tracy "The DOC" Curry, Corey London, Ryan Oliver Gelbart, Kevin MacIsaac, Zac Drayson, Morgan Smallbone, Damien Thomlinson, Darvin Dela Cruz, Alejandro Corsino and Marina Tamayo.

Screenplay by Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Loïc Barrère & Benjamin Millepied.

Directed by Benjamin Millepied.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 116 minutes. Rated R.

There is a certain risk to adapting – no matter how loosely – classic works of art.

Benjamin Millepied’s Carmen is only tangentially based upon Georges Bizet’s classic opera of the same name. Some of the basics of the storyline have been held onto, and the fact that music and dance are of great importance to the film, but in most other ways this new Carmen is a very different beast.

And sadly, it is a much more disjointed, eventually slightly disappointing one. It is often striking visually, but the action is often muddled, the music (which is original, only very slightly derivative of Bizet’s opera) is unmemorable and the characters and their situations are fairly unbelievable, despite a spectacular performance as the title character by Melissa Barrera (In the Heights, Scream).

By moving the story to the Mexican border and adding themes of immigration, racism, crime, violence and doomed passion, you would think Carmen would be much more intriguing than it ends up being. Instead it seems overwrought and melodramatic – which I suppose could be expected with something based on an opera. However, it doesn’t even settle into its melodrama in an interesting way.

Carmen is a gorgeous dancer in a dusty, backwater area of Mexico. Her mother is also a dancer, and once had escaped to the United States to follow her dream of dance. Now mother sacrifices herself to give her daughter the opportunity to escape the violent drug cartel which is on her trail and to track down her mother’s best friend, who still runs a dance hall she had started with mom over the border.

While trying to sneak across the border, Carmen is captured by two border patrol officers. One is racist and violent, the other kind and understanding. The kind one is Aidan (Paul Mescal), a Marine who is instantly taken by the gorgeous Carmen. When his friend attempts to kill her in the name of “border security,” Aidan goes on the run with Carmen to find her new home.

They end up crashing with her mother’s friend Masilda (Rossy de Palma), a fellow dancer who still runs the dance studio she opened with Carmen’s mother years earlier. However, Carmen is having trouble deciding between her dream of dance and her passion for Aidan. In the meantime, Aidan is suffering from PTSD from his time in Iraq and is trying to figure out how he could care for Carmen as a fugitive from the law.

Sadly, it all sounds much more interesting than it turns out to be.

Part of the problem is that you really never buy into the relationship between Carmen and Aiden. It happens too quickly, too completely, which I suppose is sometimes how love goes, but still it doesn’t really work as a narrative choice.

Therefore the good parts of Carmen – the atmospheric world, the sensual dance, the searing performance by Barrera – end up being overshadowed by the clunky and manipulative aspects of the film.

Plus, there is not a single song in this “musical” that is anywhere near as arresting and tuneful as “The Toreador Song” from Bizet’s original.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: April 21, 2023.


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