Carmen – movie review

Loosely inspired by Bizet’s 1875 opera Carmen, this melodrama updates the timeless story to a more contemporary setting along the US/Mexican border.

The film centres around Carmen (Melissa Barrera) who is on the run from a ruthless Mexican cartel that killed her mother. While attempting to cross the border into the US Carmen is caught by a border patrol. But when a trigger happy member of the patrol shoots several immigrants and is about to shoot her she is rescued by Aidan (Paul Mescal), a former marine who had joined the volunteer border patrol force to alleviate the boredom of living in his dead-end town. Aidan is dealing with his own demons shaped by his experiences of combat during the war. Together the pair flee the scene and make their way to LA and find refuge in a nightclub run by her godmother Masilde (played by Almodovar regular Rossy De Palma).

As the lovers on the run, Mescal (Aftersun) and Barrera (In The Heights) have a wonderful simmering chemistry. Mescal brings emotional depth to his performance as the brooding psychologically damaged Aidan. Barreras lights up the screen with her dance moves.

Carmen has been written by first-time feature writer Loic Barrere (the TV series Germinal) and Alexander Dinelaris (the Oscar winning Birdman) and is based on a screenplay written by Lisa Loomer (Girl, Interrupted). This is the debut feature film for Benjamin Millepied, who was a dancer and choreographer with the New York Ballet, and he also worked as a choreographer for the film Black Swan. His obvious passion for dance has shaped the film. His direction features several superbly staged sequences, including a boxing match choreographed to a hip-hop beat. The visuals are complemented by Nicholas Britell’s lush and evocative Spanish-influenced score.

Carmen is experimental in nature and Millepied’s direction is certainly stylish. A number of dreamlike sequences are peppered through the film, but there are also some strikingly visual and surreal moments courtesy of the lyrical cinematography from Jorg Widmer (a regular collaborator of Terrence Malick’s, having worked on films like The Tree of Life). Surprisingly, the film was shot in Broken Hill, but Widmer gives the inhospitable looking settings the authentic look and feel of the US badlands.

Greg King

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