May 5th, 2023
STARRING: MELISSA BARRERA, PAUL MESCAL, ELSA PATAKY, ROSSY DE PALMA
DIRECTED BY: BENJAMIN MILLEPIED
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Carmen is a new interpretation of the famous opera directed by Benjamin Millepied. It won’t receive the commercial appeal as other films such as Scream VI, but this is a bursting piece of art, displaying the amazing talents of Millepied, Melissa Barrera, and Paul Mescal. Barrera tackles this role with every fiber of her body– she proved her great singing and dancing on In the Heights– but now Mescal is showing his versatility. You also see gorgeous cinematography, a beautiful story of lovers on the run, played by two charismatic actors– you get the spectacular Carmen.
To begin, I’ve never seen the original opera, but from reading a Wikipedia synopsis, this Carmen is a far separation from the original plot. It’s more in the vein of Bonnie and Clyde, True Romance, or Badlands, with the twist of them finding one another on the Mexican border. Aiden (Mescal) has returned from his tour in the Iraq war, where his friend Mike (Benedict Hardie) helps him with a job to assist border patrol agents. Their job is supposed to be spotting illegally crossing people and reporting it. From the jump, Mike has more on his mind and when he stops Carmen (Barrera) in her tracks, Aiden shoots Mike before he can kill her. They are now connected and run for cover.
The second act is where the narrative starts to truly blossom. The spirit of Carmen’s mother guides them to a smoky nightclub run by the enigmatic Masilda (Rossy de Palma). It’s here where the couple is protected and we see them in a world of music, dance sequences, singing, and lavish lighting. This is where the lovers find chemistry, with steamy passion, and release their sexual attraction to one another.
The screenplay is adapted by Loic Barrere, Alexander Dinelaris, and Lisa Loomer with great detail. One factor that I appreciated was that it is about survival and not about the pursuit. There’s no Tommy Lee Jones ala The Fugitive to bring them in. There are flashes of no-name bad guys but the message is to live vicariously through the spirit of freedom. Cinematographer Jorg Widmer captures the golden tones of the desert and films night sequences similar to Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. With the blossoming spirit, we see Masilda putting on her dance shows, singing her arias, and desperately clinging to take care of Carmen- the woman that told her mother she would protect her at all costs.
The increasing terror on the question of if they will survive is pushing against their unique chemistry. At a certain point, Millipied realizes that this is a tragic love story, two people on opposite sides finding one another by happen-stance, and having us root for their love. Discovering their fate, along with excellent set-pieces of ballet, beautiful songs, and raw realism are what bring Carmen to the top. It’s a mesmerizing and magnificent romance. The climax is when it takes flight into its own piece, a fully realized production of great love. The final verdict is that Carmen makes my heart sing.
CARMEN IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY MAY 5TH, 2023.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady