The two leads of Carmen stand close to one another in a desert environment.

Film Review: Carmen

Film Reviews

Director: Benjamin Millipied

Chapter 2 and Goalpost Pictures
In Theaters: 05.19

A remake or re-imagining can take many different forms, and a sense of originality and new vision can be exciting. Carmen, the new cinematic take on Georges Bizet‘s celebrated opera, certainly has a vision—it’s just not a very lucid one.

Carmen stars Melissa Barrera (In The Heights) as the titular young woman on the run from the drug cartel who murdered her mother in a journey that forces her to illegally cross the border from Mexico into the United States. As she crosses, she is attacked by a ruthless and xenophobic volunteer border patrol guard out for blood. Aiden (Paul Mescal, Aftersun), an ex-marine who was dragged along on the patrol, steps in, rescues Carmen and in doing so makes them both fugitives. The two head toward Los Angeles and try to figure out a plan to get out of the mess and fall in love along the way 

This isn’t  a bad set up, and for the first 30 minutes, Carmen shows a great deal of potential. Director Benjamin Milliped has enough sense of rhythm and presentation and cinematographer Jörg Widmer paints enough gorgeous pictures to get you excited and on board with the two leads, who couldn’t be more appealing. 

Carmen bears only slightly more resemblance to Bizet than The Dukes of Hazzard does to Chekov, though the film samples Bizet’s opera music frequently enough to create a vague connection. The fact that the storyline is completely different from that of the opera would be much easier to embrace if it played out as coherent narrative. Millipied, a ballet dancer and choreographer known to Hollywood for his work on Black Swan, sees the premise as  a mere jumping off point for one experimental dance sequence after another, tossing storytelling further and further aside in favor of flashy visuals and empty, avant-garde pretense

Carmen is beautiful enough to follow through its opening, and each subsequent sequence feels more forced and less enthralling than the one that precedes. Despite three credited writers, Carmen feels as though it’s being made up as it goes. By the time Aidan is asked to take part in a bare-knuckle boxing match to the death, it feels like we’re watching a bad improv troupe flailing to connect the various suggestions from the audience into anything approaching cohesiveness.

Barrera and Mescal give it everything they’ve got, and there’s not a bit of the movie’s failure that should be blamed on them. Millipied tries to make a modern day Moulin Rouge!, hoping that the aesthetics of freedom, beauty, truth and love can all mask the flimsiness of it all. The difference isn’t just in the level of inspiration: Baz Luhrman used tongue-in-cheek humor and sincerity in Rouge to hold his zany and immature cacophony together, and there was even a feeling that it was poking fun at itself. Carmen takes itself deadly seriously, and the self-indulgent pomposity mixed with what can only be called the cluelessness of an amateur is off putting.

I really wanted to like Carmen, and there are individual elements that are truly marvelous. It’s a shame that it becomes so hopelessly lost that I now find it impossible to recommend it to anyone. Sitting though the whole thing becomes a genuine ordeal. This is one operatic performance that simply hits too many sour notes to endure. –Patrick Gibbs

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