• Beautiful cinematography
  • Great choreography
  • Nice chemistry between leads
  • Bare-bones plot
  • Has identity crisis in genre
  • Great moments but not great as a whole

“Carmen” is a solid directorial debut from choreographer Benjamin Millepied but the great chemistry of Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal isn’t enough to make this film a complete whole.


A woman on a quest to find freedom embarks upon a dramatic and life-altering journey from Mexico to Los Angeles.

A woman dancing fiercely. Two lawless men with guns. A brutal murder. A daughter fleeing for safety. These are the hard-hitting elements that begin the rhythmic, fierce “Carmen,” the directorial debut of choreographer Benjamin Millepied. “Carmen” is loosely based on the famous opera, totally revamping the opera’s plot and setting, keeping just selected lyrics from the original. The film centers around two characters, Carmen (Melissa Barrera), a tough, independent woman fleeing her home in Mexico after the murder of her mother and Aidan (Paul Mescal), a marine with PTSD. Their paths violently cross after a deadly standoff at the Mexican-US boarder (leaving way for some not-so-subtle commentary on immigration). The two are then forced to escape together, arriving at a nightclub ran by Carmen’s “aunt” Masilda (Rossy De Palma). From here, Carmen and Aidan explore the possibilities of romance, all while the police inch in closer to their destination…

Outside of the inspired elements and the eponymously named character, there’s not much of a backstory to apply to “Carmen” the film in regards to its inspiration, the opera. In the original opera, Carmen is a gypsy, in this film, she is a woman on the run who is also a singer/dancer. In the original, Don José leaves his military duties after being seduced by the fiery Carmen. In this film, Aidan (Don José’s character surrogate) chooses to abandon his “volunteer” military duties and escape with Carmen because he has no other choice. There is a stronger, deeper romantic bond here than just seduction, betrayal and passion-fueled murder. The strength and chemistry of that love depends fully on the chemistry of its actors and here, Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal are up to the challenge and fulfill it. Melissa Barrera brings a great energy to the lead role of Carmen, her infectious smile and spunkyness pairs well with Mescal’s aggressive but kind, dangerous but sensitive portrayal of Aidan. Their chemistry lights up the screen whether it’s a scene of dancing, making love or just existing alongside each other. A great supporting turn here is Rossy De Palma as the enigmatic Masilda, taking over the screen with her musical numbers and commanding respect and attention center-frame.

Romantic chemistry aside, “Carmen” can be a mixed bag as its identity can be a bit warped and not for the better. This is a western musical with well-choreographed dance numbers. As great as that sounds, it can lead to some disparate moments while trying to enjoy whatever this is. Director Millepied handles the material with assuredness, setting up terrific musical numbers, dance numbers and making way for terrific cinematography of the open desert. However, these parts don’t just form the whole, they don’t really form a whole picture. “Carmen” runs more off emotion than an actual plot, resembling something of a romantic, musical version of “Drive”. If that sounds like it works, it doesn’t. There are a handful of great choreographed moments in this film, one of which being an interesting fight scene in the climax, with guttural vocals lent by Hip Hop legend “The DOC”. The musical “fight-dance” scene itself is random in its placement but no less remarkable in its direction and flow. It’s the second-best fight sequence I’ve seen this year behind “Creed III”.

Closing Thoughts
“Carmen” is a solid debut for director Benjamin Millepied. It’s not a perfect debut but it’s enough to showcase the skill of its director. A great pair of leads in Barrera and Mescal keep this film’s engine running way past its intricate dance numbers and musical sequences. Outside of that, the soul is mostly stripped from the machine of this film. A better plot or a shortened runtime may have been the solution to turn this film from a solid effort to a great effort. But, if this is any indication to the talent Millepied carries as a filmmaker, there’s nowhere to go but up from here.


Blak Cinephile
Blak Cinephile is a cinephile who both loves film and loves to write/talk about it. He has a genuine respect for the art of cinema and has always strived to find the line between insightful subjectivity and observant objectivity while constructing his reviews. He believes a deeper understanding (and a deeper love) of cinema is borne through criticism.

Cinema for Brunch BLACKBERRY Review

Previous article

Cinema for Bruch FAST X Review

Next article

You may also like


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *