For dubious reasons, it occurred to some very talented people that it would be a great idea to correct Georges Bizet’s 1875 classic musical. Carmen for the big screen, throwing out everything – the setting, the era, and, above all, the music – and replacing it with a misguided attempt at relevance, placing it on the modern US-Mexico border.
It is obvious from the outset that none of this trendy approach works at all, and it only gets worse over time. Perhaps some viewers will be captivated by the devotion to an enterprise of its own importance, but from almost any point of view – dramatic, cinematic, political or musical – this is a complete washout. It has no cinematic feel.
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Famed choreographer Benjamin Millepied describes his work as “a complete reimagining” of this time-honored warhorse, which, it is worth noting, was not well received at its Paris premiere in March 1875. The composer died three months later, at the age of only 35. , unaware of the classic status his latest work will eventually receive.
In this moment, Carmen is a familiar warhorse and certainly a worthy game to revisit, embellish and – why not? – rethinking. Nicholas Britell, an eminent film scorer, songwriter and academic, has taken on the development of a new Carmenand what could be more timely and convincing, one might think, than to place the action in our day along a highly contested national divide?
Well, a lot, as it turns out. Much of the film is set in the middle of an apparently uninviting desert, which soon becomes a big boring place (for complicated Covid reasons, the film was filmed in Australia). There’s also something “wrong” about the look of the city, where a desperate couple finally turns up and can perform in a way that’s been long put off.
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But, more importantly, the main couple is not seductive or attractive. After killing her mother, Carmen (Melissa Barrera) makes her way from Mexico to the US, but not without two other immigrants in the group being killed by a volunteer border guard. Another guard, Aidan (Paul Mescal), is a Marine with PTSD, and he and Carmen end up escaping the frontier stage together to find Carmen’s mother’s best friend, the owner of La Sombra, a local potential sanctuary of music and dance. .
The introduction of the US-Mexico border issue theoretically introduces a new and relevant dramatic element to decades of history, but it all seems rather contrived and populated mostly by formulaic suspicious types. The viewer’s sympathy for the central couple is essentially assumed, but neither is actually sympathetic, and their romance seems mechanical and automatic rather than truly felt or deserved; they never participate in what attracts you and makes you root for them.
Yes, their predicament is terrible and they have to suffer in order to survive, but the script and acting don’t fit the occasion. When they finally get to the nightclub, which is inexplicably large and trendy given its precarious location, the music and dancing take over for a while. But original music is sorely lacking, and the limited appeal of the two main characters never develops into a relationship that piques your emotional interest. It all seems contrived, unseductive, and wildly unconvincing.