Carmen (2003)

“Carmen” (2003)

carmen1

IMDb

french Spain

If you start thinking about the set up in which this film is inserted, you will want to see it. At least i did it: This is an adaptation of a novel, by a french writer (immortalized in an opera by a french composer). The writer, Mérimée, was as well an historian-archaeologist-translator; meaning this, someone who cared for “exotism”, in a time in which Spanish or Portuguese rural worlds were still considered exotic to the English and the french. That novel established the clichés and preconceptions regarding Spanish culture still considered these days (and efficiently exploited by the tourism industry). Bizet also helped establish other clichés, musical to that matter. But this film is Spanish, in production, creative minds and people involved. So this was a brilliant opportunity for a view into a distinct edge of Spanish culture described by a french and commented on by the Spanish. That was the motivation for me.

They started off quite well, and at least i think they gave a thought at what i mentioned. That’s why they place Mérimée himself as a character, observing Andaluzia as a foreigner, and taking note of what he sees, even sharing space and scenes with Carmen and José. That was good, and i appreciated the audacity of crossing the line of the facts (if there ever was a real Carmen, Mérimée never got to know her).

But the problem is, they never step out of the very clichés Mérimée established. The film is visually as lush as the opera is musically. The sets are brilliantly baroque, the (excellent) production emphasizes passioned environments (operatic, as well), an orange/yellow deviating sexual mood. But they also emphasize the temperament of the characters a little too much, deviating the thing from what could have been better explored, something that could matter and that is in fact noted:

The drama is built around Carmen, and the inability for José to play the game according to her rules. Those rules are defined by cultural background, and that is where the frictions lie. Carmen comes from a branch of the Spanish culture, that transcends Spain. Gypsies, a group of nomads, a people that wouldn’t, or couldn’t adapt to the established norms the roman derived catholic based culture (that self and forced rejection still lasts today in most of the places). José is Basque, but that is little seen, he could be from Madrid, that in this case it would be the same, he is a cliché as well. So, it is those cultural differences that matter. This is, i mentioned, noted, but not made the center of the thing. They prefer remarking on the sensuality as the engine for the plot and sex as the motivation for the characters, that’s why we have Paz Vega here, who had been in the brilliant sex-centered ‘Lucía y el sexo’ just 2 years before. Well she does deliver what they intended, and she is sensual for my contemporary and contextualized eyes. So it’s not a matter of what they did here, but what they could have done.

Side note: one could also take Carmen as an early symbol for a female emancipation that would only really happen decades later. Is this something Mérimée observed, or something he included as part of his french more cosmopolitan way of thinking?

My opinion: 3/5

This comment on IMDb

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