Review by Camden Ferrell
Not many directors can say that their feature directorial debut was a re-imagining of one of the most iconic operas ever made. However, this is exactly what Benjamin Millepied has attempted with his movie Carmen, a take on Bizet’s opera. While it’s visually stunning and full of amazing choreography, the film is too ambitious for its own sake and fumbles in telling its complex and abstract take on its story.
After the death of her mother, Carmen flees her home in Mexico to come to the U.S. After confrontation and violence, she escapes with border guard Aidan, and they fall madly in love. Now, they must continue their journey to Los Angeles to find Masilda, a friend of Carmen’s late mother. This is a simple story told in a rather complex manner. It’s an interesting modernization of the opera, and aside from a few plot points and lyrics, it feels almost completely different.
Being based on an opera, the movie is full of music and dancing, and it’s one of the film’s best attributes. The choreography done by Millepied is astounding and mesmerizing to watch. Set to an original score by the always impressive Nicholas Britell, these scenes are the highlight of the movie and engage the audience when the in-between moments fail. These moments are abstract yet effective in communicating things about its characters, and the movie could have benefited from more scenes of this nature.
The performances are quite good as well even though they’re not amazing. Led by Melissa Barrera as Carmen, this cast performs well even if their chemistry isn’t always present. Barrera is an engaging lead with a great voice and rhythm that suit the movie well. Paul Mescal also stars as Aidan, and while he’s an interesting watch, there are times where he seems ever so slightly miscast next to Barrera. In addition to the leads the movie features a great performance from Rossy de Palma as well as an ensemble of incredibly talented dancers.
The movie’s ambition is its defining trait and also its downfall. There was never a moment where I didn’t admire how ambitious and bold it was. Unfortunately, I also think the movie suffered as a result of its ambitious storytelling methods. Millepied stuck to a vision and committed fully to it even though it didn’t flow between scenes well and tell its story in the best way possible. It’s an ambition that will likely turn away general audiences, but it’s still something most people will admire even if it’s minimal.
Carmen is a bold reimaging of the classic opera, and it clearly stands apart as a separate body of work. Strong visuals from cinematographer Jörg Widmer, captivating cinematography, and wonderful music combine for some truly amazing moments. Sadly, these moments are brought down by less than stellar storytelling and pacing that hinder the film’s quality greatly.
Carmen is in theaters April 21.