Though not the best film version of Bizet’s famous opera Carmen, Mark Dornford-May’s Berlin Bear-winner from 2005 may be among the most loyal. The filmmakers delicately transplant the story to modern-day South Africa, where the opera’s plot is preserved but its passions, sung entirely in Xhosa, are connected to a distinctly African way of life. Beginning with the seductive opening scene, Dornford-May fiercely exalts female beauty that is decidedly not of the Dorothy Dandridge variety. Carmen (Pauline Malefane) is kept proudly (and bravely) overweight, working at a cigarette factory in Cape Town and belting out stunning notes as a member of a choir. She meets one man, loving and teasing him before moving on to another, thus perpetuating her death. Dornford-May’s talent for blocking is simple (his camera seems to always be stalking the same 360-degree angle around the film’s characters), but he has a gift for montage and a swell aptitude for cutting on the right notes. Highlights include a song that plays out entirely inside Carmen’s head while visiting a witch doctor and, much earlier, an evocation of social camaraderie when Carmen and her co-workers sing and pound on their worktable while at the cigarette factory. A problem with most Carmen adaptations is that the titular diva’s relationships to her lovers feel insufficiently dramatized. This one is no exception but the bold vocal performances make up for the narrative slack.
- Mark Dornford-May
- Mark Dornford-May, Andiswa Kedama, Pauline Malefane
- Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni, Lungelwa Blou, Zweilungile Sidloyi, Andries Mbali, Zamile Gantana, Andiswa Kedama, Ruby Mthethwa
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