Films like Carmen are always interesting to review. In his debut director Benjamin Millepied takes Prosper Mérimée’s gripping novella and certainly goes his own way with it resulting in a blend of performative dance and music, with storytelling. Carmen is neither a musical nor a narrative film and this surreal exploration of Carmen’s mission is admittedly a mixed bag. It’s beautiful at times, but it’s also overly superficial during overs and I’m not too sure Millepied’s adaptation truly works.
This version sees Carmen (Melissa Barrera) after the death of her mother fleeing the cartel to Los Angeles where she meets Aidan (Paul Mescal) along the way. She’s reeling from loss; Aiden is a recently retired soldier suffering from PTSD and a connection between them forms as they embark on this journey together. There are times this chance encounter and the attraction between Carmen and Aiden fuels an intriguing road trip, Bonnie and Clyde-esqe vibe to it that is effectively alluring. Unfortunately, throughout this movie the spots of character development and the emotional framing of their connection to each other is abruptly interrupted by performative dance.
Where musicals often “sing-talk” to prevent these performances from slowing the pace. Carmen simply and jarringly at times abandons its storytelling to showcase an admittedly extravagant dance number. These sequences look great but while visually appealing, from the aspect of story building, they play more like a roadblock. This pattern from Millepied results in the connection to the story being at arm’s length which is too bad given the performances from Barrera and Mescal are fantastic. Both are poised to deliver something great but the overbearing infusion of style from Millepied never allows them to do so.
Where Carmen lacks in narrative and character development it certainly makes up for it with its production design and overall surreal visual aesthetic. The dance performances are impressive, and I really can appreciate what this movie attempts to do with the musical scoring. There are spots where the emotion is elegantly captured in tone, but there are more times you may wish there was actual dialogue to go with it because the influence of unspoken storytelling doesn’t always work.
In the end Carmen is an artistic film but it’s far from an accessible one and it’s hard to pinpoint where this film belongs. It feels like a movie that will be a letdown for musical purists and it lacks far too much substance for those who like traditional plotting and story progression. Leaving this movie in jeopardy of being a strong case of style of substance.
Cast: Melissa Barrera, Paul Mescal, Rossy de Palma, Elsa Pataky, Nicole da Silva, Tara Morice, Ricardo Brancatisano Director: Benjamin Millepied Writer(s): Loïc Barrére, Alexander Dinelaris, Lisa Loomer, Prosper Mérimée Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics Running Time: 116 Minutes Rating: R (Language, some violence and nudity) Year: 2022 Language: English/Spanish Genre: Drama/Musical
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis. All Rights Reserved.