Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Lovers on the run: Let’s dance


  French choreographer Benjamin Millepied makes his directorial debut by enrolling in the lovers-on-the-run school of filmmaking. We’ve raced through these corridors before, but not quite like this.
  Loosely following the arc of Bizet's opera, Millepied's Carmen casts Melissa Barrera (In the Heights) as a fiercely independent woman who escapes cartel killers in Mexico and takes flight to Los Angeles.
  During a skirmish at the border, Barrera's Carmen meets Aidan (Paul Mescal of Aftersun), a former Marine who did two tours in Afghanistan. To protect Carmen, Aidan kills a border patrol officer. 
   The two take flight.
   A plot summary doesn't do justice to Millepied's effort. Relying heavily on cinematographer Jorge Widmer (A Tree of Life and V for Vendetta) and composer Nicholas Britell (Moonlight), Millepied turns his movie into a dreamy succession of set pieces, many featuring dance and song.
   Other musical contributions come from singer/songwriters Julieta Venegas, songwriter Taura Stinson, and rapper The D.O.C.
   The movie's opening sets a no-nonsense mood. Flamenco dancer Marina Tamayo dances on a wooden platform in the middle of a lonely arid landscape. The rhythms she creates with her feet are sharply defiant. Whatever these men want, Tamayo's character has no intention of giving it to them.
    Tamayo, who's playing Carmen's mother, dies at the hands of these cartel thugs, but her presence is meant to haunt the rest of the film.
   Millepied requires his actors to create a strong presence as much as to develop their characters. Mescal makes a convincing battle-scarred warrior with a tender side and Barrera shines during the dance sequences. 
   Pedro Amodovar regular Rossy de Palma brings her striking appearance to the film as the owner of a club where Aidan and Carmen find respite. De Palma's witchy blend of concern, menace, and eroticism almost turn her into a special effect.
   Border issues and the traumatic impact of war add topicality but Millepied seems to be aiming for more than a gloss on current events, possibly a story about characters who become dramatic archetypes.
   As a result, emotions often play second fiddle to Millepied's  formalized approach, a prospect that will bother those expecting torrid passion. 
   Carmen may not deliver on every level, but bold execution creates appreciation for a movie of artistic ambition and palpable daring.

No comments: