The Movie Waffler New to VOD - CARMEN | The Movie Waffler


Reimagining of Bizet's classic opera.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Benjamin Millepied

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Paul Mescal, Rossy de Palma, Elsa Pataky, Tracy Curry

Carmen poster

Paul Mescal and Melissa Barrera prove themselves all-singing, all-dancing talents in choreographer turned director Benjamin Millepied's loose adaptation of Bizet's classic opera Carmen. Bizet's work was itself a very loose adaptation of a novella by Prosper Mérimée. Overt the decades several filmmakers, including Otto Preminger, Jean-Luc Godard and Cecil B. DeMille, have offered their own distinctive takes on the opera, diverging from the source material to considerable degrees but retaining the central figure of a free-spirited but tragic heroine.

Carmen review

That's what we get with Millepied's film, which he co-wrote with Loïc Barrère. What's different about this take is that the roles of the titular gypsy and her soldier lover have been largely reversed. Possibly with a female and gay audience in mind, the latter is now posited as the tragic, brooding figure, with Mescal continuing the taciturn, smoldering schtick that has become his trademark in his brief career.

Mescal plays Aidan, a young veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan who is struggling to adapt to civilian life back in the American SouthWest. He just wants to spend his days strumming his guitar and crooning folk tunes but his sister convinces him to join a ragtag border patrol comprised of official agents and gun-toting vigilantes. When one of the latter kills a group of Mexicans he and Aidan discover hiding in a truck, Aidan shoots him dead before he can put a bullet in Carmen (Barrera), who hopped across the border when her mother was similarly gunned down.

Carmen review

For unclear reasons, Aidan and Carmen decide to stick together and head for Los Angeles, where the sanctuary of a friend of Carmen's mother awaits. Why an illegal immigrant would want to hang out with a fugitive and thus draw extra attention to herself is never quite addressed, but I guess she just has a crush on the handsome, brooding soldier.

Carmen never quite figures out what story it's telling, or whom it's focused upon. For a brief period it's a road movie, a sort of Wild at Heart light, as Aidan and Carmen make their way through the sweaty SouthWest, having slightly surreal encounters with carnival troupes and a disappearing cabbie who might be an angel. The Los Angeles they find is straight out of David Lynch's version of the City of Angels, complete with its own version of Mulholland Dr.'s Club Silencio, run by a crooning Spanish matriarch (Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma). But the darkness and sinister threat of Lynch's films is largely absent, and we never really feel like our young heroes are in much danger here.

Carmen review

The superficial storytelling means Mescal and Barrera never quite click as a screen couple, except when they're sharing a dancefloor, at which points the film erupts into life. Millepied's previous life as a choreographer doesn't entirely gel with his new role as a movie director, with some of the dance numbers edited in a sloppy manner that betrays a lack of experience in directing dance for the screen. But crucially, Mescal and Barrera can convincingly throw down a few moves, unlike say Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land. All of Carmen's best moments involve at least one of its central pair strutting their stuff, though its worst moment is a boxing match set to a cringey piece of Hamilton-esque hip-hop. By that late point the movie has well and truly lost sight of what it wants to be, but it leaves us in no doubt that we've spent two hours in the presence of two young stars on the rise.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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