Carmen (Melissa Barrera) attempts to flee from Mexico following the murder of her mother by a drug cartel. Bundled into a van with other people trying to illegally cross the border, Carmen is saved by veteran Aidan (Paul Mescal) who is part of the border patrol team. He. Makes the split-second decision when his colleague opens fire, and agrees to help Carmen reach her destination – Los Angeles, where a friend of her mother can offer her refuge.
‘Carmen’ is billed as a reimagining of Georges Bizet’s classic opera of the same name. Transplanting the story from Spain to Mexico, the film actually bears very little resemblance to the ‘Carmen’ that you likely already know. It’s true to say that the basic element of two people from different walks of life are drawn together but that plot device has been used to death in film for years, and isn’t exclusive to the story of ‘Carmen’. An effective, and stylised, opening sets expectations high but the film fails to live up to its potential. Lacking in dialogue and devoid of a compelling plot, the near two-hour watch feels more like a slog than it does anything else.
The biggest problem with ‘Carmen’ is that it has no idea what kind of film it wants to be. It’s not a musical, although there are songs in it, and it’s not really a performing arts piece even though the dance sequences are the strongest moments in the film. As a drama it doesn’t deliver a well-rounded story, offering the audience only vague characters that never evolve from being simply two-dimensional. Director Benjamin Millepied, who has made a career as a dancer and a choreography, understands how to put together a spectacle but he struggles to weave those engaging scenes with a plot that doesn’t really go anywhere.
That having being said, the film does have its plus points. It looks superb, heavily stylised perhaps in the hope that script’s lacking and uneven tone may go unnoticed. The two leads – Melissa Barrera (‘Scream’ franchise) and Paul Mescal (‘Aftersun’) – manage to foster believable chemistry that transcends the lack of development of their characters. Both are easy to watch and Barrera in particular gets to showcase her abilities as both a singer and a dancer, as well as her acting.
‘Carmen’ needn’t have tried to model itself on the classic love story. While it takes beats from the source material, it could easily have just been a film about star-crossed lovers. With echoes of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and the potential to be a thought-provoking arthouse piece, ‘Carmen’ struggles to find its voice and its glacial pace won’t be to everyone’s liking. There’s a good idea in here somewhere but sadly it never makes it onto the screen, and the end result is a disjointed film that weaves together disparate scenes that left me completely cold.
Cast: Melissa Barrera, Paul Mescal, Elsa Pataky, Rossy de Palma Director: Benjamin Millepied Writers: Loïc Barrere, Alexander Dinelaris, Lisa Loomer Certificate: 15 Duration: 116 mins Released by: Dazzler Media Release date: 2nd June 2023