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May 5, 2023 / Mongrel Media

Starring: Paul Mescal, Melissa Barrera

Directed By: Benjamin Millepied

Benjamin Millepied’s CARMEN is a gritty modern day tale, with a majestic score by Nicholas Britell, and dream-like dance sequences that evoke magic realism. The story follows a young and fiercely independent woman who is forced to flee her home in the Mexican desert following the brutal murder of her mother, another strong and mysterious woman. Carmen survives a terrifying and dangerous illegal border crossing into the US, only to be confronted by a lawless volunteer border guard who cold-bloodedly murders two other immigrants in her group. When the border guard and his patrol partner, Aidan—a Marine with PTSD—become embroiled in a deadly standoff, Carmen and Aidan are forced to escape together.

Written By Darren

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Carmen is a truly unique experience, combining storytelling, dance and music to create an intoxicating experience to showcase the talents of Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal.

Benjamin Millepied has made a name for himself as a dancer and choreographer, having worked with the New York CIty Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet, as well as choreographing Black Swan and creating the “sandwalk” for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. But with Carmen, he makes his feature film directorial debut in this reimagining of the famous musical and opera of the same name. While many think of Carmen as an opera, Millepied reduces the singing and tells the tragic love story of these two lovers through dance. The story is reimagined for modern times, but the broad strokes remain the same.

From the second the film begins, Millepied’s choreography conveys the emotion of the characters and the story. With each dance move, emotion is expressed in a truly cinematic way that will take your breath away while being captured by the stunning cinematography that makes this film visually stunning. There is a limited amount of dialogue in the film, leaving the characters to express themselves through dance, which while may be challenging for the more average viewer, is where Millepied’s true talents lie and creates an unforgettable experience.

Bringing the two star crossed lovers to life are Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal, and both of them are excellent. They create an intoxicating romance between their characters with a limited amount of dialogue, but it’s impossible not to feel the passion between the two of them. Both of them give very physical performances, tapping into their creative side in the dance sequences and utilize their facial expressions and body language to convey their love for each other. I had no doubt in my mind that Barrera would be great as Carmen after starring in last year’s In The Heights, but it was Mescal who surprised me with the strength of his performance. While I knew Mescal was a great actor, I did not know he had the ability to dance and move his body like this, but yet again he proves what a talented performer he is.

While it is mainly a dance film, there are still a few songs in the film, with the big one being Barrera’s number at the nightclub leading into the third act of the which was one of the highlights of the film for me, giving musical fans just enough song and dance to wet their appetite. Though, the driving force of the entire film is Nicholas Britell’s musical score. Within seconds of the film starting, the musical score hits you like a freight train and sets the various tones of the film, guiding the audience through all the emotions of the characters and the story. It’s without a doubt one of the best musical scores of the year, and one of Britell’s to date, which is saying something considering the phenomenal pieces he has composed in recent memory. At the same time, the film utilizes parts of Georges Bizet’s musical score from the opera and lyrics from the original musical version, creating a musical experience that is both daring and bold while also paying honour to the different iterations of this story that audiences have experienced in the past.

All of the individual aspects of the film come together to create that climatic dance between Carmen and Aidan, which is absolutely breathtaking and an emotional rollercoaster all at once. Britell’s musical score flourishes as Barrera and Mescal put everything out on the line, that combined with the stunning cinematography, puts the audience right in the middle of Carmen and Aidan’s love affair, creating what is easily one of the best dance numbers in a film in recent memory. It’s an energetic sequence, charged by the emotion of the story that creates a lasting impression on the audience as the film comes to a close.

The film is so technically well put together that it is hard to imagine that this is Millepied’s first directorial effort, but it showcases what a promising talent he has and I cannot wait to see what he sets his eyes on next. There is no denying that mainstream audiences will struggle with Carmen, as it is incredibly artistic, but fans of musicals and dance will be enthralled by this truly one of a kind film. Benjamin Millepied’s choreography and Nicholas Britell’s musical score reign supreme in Carmen, that with two great performances from Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal, results in one of the most intriguing and intoxicating films that I have recently experienced.

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