Carmen [TIFF22 Review]

After my screening of Carmen, I ran into Arianne as they were in line for their next screening, and I got to tell them in person instead of over text, “this just kicked The Fabelmans out of my top 5.” The look of confusion was highly evident. The truth is, The Fabelmans made it back into my top 5 (and higher than just fifth place) a few hours later because of the People’s Choice screening, but I just want the record to show that not only is Carmen still in my top 5, it initially kicked Spielberg out.

Carmen is based on the Opera of the same name. Moving from Spain to Mexico, we follow Carmen (Melissa Barrera) as she runs from a cartel and tries to cross the border into the states. It’s there where she finds Aiden (Paul Mescal), a veteran who ends up being at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Depending on which perspective you’re looking at the situation, it could be any variation of right or wrong. The two run away together, and as you’d imagine, they fall for one another. Since the film is based on an opera and there have been dozens of adaptations, I don’t think I could necessarily spoil the film, but I’ll leave it there for the plot because, frankly, the plot doesn’t matter. As was complaints from some viewers, there was no real story to follow, but the truth is, I felt it for every moment in the film.

Directed by Benjamin Millipied, a first-time director with a strong visual style of majestic backdrops and brilliant blocking. This comes as no surprise after realizing that not only was he the choreographer for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, but he was also the dance director at the Paris Opéra Ballet. So if anyone could tell a story with dance alone, Millipied would be one of the contenders to do so. As both Melissa and Paul dance in moments as the camera races around them, and we are brought into these gorgeous close-ups, it’s mesmerizing, it’s moving. The score that plays underneath definitely helps.

Thanks to Nicholas Britell, who, since making a name for himself with Moonlight, clearly doesn’t know how to make anything but gold, his score sings in ways of how it was meant to be played loud. The theatre I was in (AVX) made both the score and the sound design add such a huge important element to the film. The seats in the theatre were shaking. My bones rattled as Carmen’s mother was dancing and stepping as the score started sweeping in. 

The dialogue in the film is minimal, and if you’re familiar with the source material or not, you know where the story ends. Still, Carmen is 100% an example of when the journey is this beautiful, and the destination isn’t as important. It’s timely and moving, both parts of the story and this passion for dance. It’s a marvel to witness on the big screen, with loudspeakers echoing enough for us to move. 

This film reminds me always to check out the Discovery section for TIFF more often than I do. While it may not hit everyone, Carmen was a film I adored.