by George Wolf
For this latest reimagining of the classic story, director Benjamin Millepied credits inspiration from Prosper Mérimée’s original novella from 1845, and Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Gypsies” from 1824.
Flashing more modern vibrancy through culturally rich music and dance, this new Carmen arrives as a wonder of visionary composition that struggles to find an equally compelling connection to its characters.
The writing team of Loic Barrere, Alexander Dinelaris and Lisa Loomer crafts a surface-level tale of lovers on the run. Aidan (Paul Mescal) is a troubled Marine veteran volunteering on a night patrol along the Mexican border, while Carmen (Melissa Barrera) is trying to cross after the death of her mother. A violent altercation leads to casualties, and the two are soon trying to stay one step ahead of authorities.
Millepied (choreographer and co-star of Black Swan) knows his way around a dance number, getting an assist from flamenco specialist Marina Tamayo for sequences that sport some thrilling fluidity. The acclaimed talents of cinematographer Jörg Widmer (The Tree of Life, V for Vendetta) and composer Nicholas Britell (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk) are also on full display, rounding out a veteran stable of technical skill that consistently lifts the film’s imagery and scope.
Mescal (Aftersun) continues to show a gift for quiet nuance, Barrera (In the Heights, Scream, Scream VI) finally breaks out of her reliance on posing, and the veteran Rossy de Palma (various Almodóvar projects) steals scenes as a savvy nightclub owner, but the script seems content to keep depth at a distance.
Pushkin’s centuries-old themes of noble savages and the tragedy of life are too often given a heavy hand, needing a rescue by the visual poetry on display.
This Carmen tells us “dancing will you heal you.” Indeed, it’s one of the cures for what ails a less than passionate romance.