By Mr. Will Wong
Dancer/Choreographer Benjamin Millepied makes his directorial debut with CARMEN, which premiered at TIFF ’22. Loosely-based on the Opera of the same name, maintaining some of it’s original lyrics, the story is set in modern day. We meet Carmen (Melissa Barrera), a young woman whose mother is murdered, then fleeing her native Mexico. She makes it to the border, narrowly escaping death after encountering a ruthless border guard. She then meets Aidan (Paul Mescal), a former Marine suffering from PTSD, who is on-duty when this happens. Together they are on-the-run, possible running from the same thing they are running towards.
Clocking-in at just under two hours, what this Musical Drama lacks in story, it certainly is compensated for in spectacle. CARMEN, visually is so cinematic on every level, fused with a modest yet effective serving of song and stunning choreography. Cinematographer Jorg Widmer captures the romance here so beautifully, it all feels like a dream. That being said, the Film at moments feels languid in its pacing, imbalanced in its focus on mood and imagery, rather than what truly matters – its characters and their obstacles.
Barrera excels as Carmen, strong-willed and so focussed on surviving, she doesn’t get a proper chance to grieve. The role demands so much of her emotionally, in choreography and vocally, but she makes it seem so effortless. We can’t imagine the role being played by anyone else. Mescal delivers a quiet vulnerability as Aidan, not to be outdone by Barrera. They are an unlikely pairing that thrives in chemistry as our two leads encapsulate the essence of grief so well in their characters. It holds them back, yet propels them forward on the journeys.
Mongrel Media release CARMEN in theatres May 5, 2023.
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