Eye For Film >> Movies >> Carmen (2003) Film Review
Based around the structure of the first three sections of Prosper Mérimée's 1847 novella - rather than Bizet's opera (which focusses solely on the third section) - Vicente Aranda's adaptation of Carmen places Mérimée himself (Jay Benedict) within the film as both narrator and participant in events, and continues the director's thematic obsession with sexual jealousy and dangerous women. Carmen (Paz Vega) is represented as a classic femme fatale - a treacherous woman who uses her sexuality to bring a good man down (in this case soldier José, played by Leonardo Sbaraglia), leading to her own destruction.
Sadly there is not a great deal of chemistry between Vega and Sbaraglia, which could be seen as a realistic representation of a one-sided relationship but it makes for some curiously inert interactions given the supposed all-consuming passion that drives José beyond distraction. Sbaraglia - who is usually a commanding and charismatic presence - looks uncomfortable in some of the period garb and suffers with a character who spends most of his time skulking in corners and brooding in inarticulate turmoil, which becomes repetitive as the narrative progresses.
However the Seville-born Vega lends her version of Carmen regional authenticity in a performance that strays from her habitual onscreen persona - the sweet-natured ray of sunshine seen in the likes of Sex And Lucía or Spanglish - to deliver a cold and clear-eyed depiction of calculated falseness and deception. Carmen's evident unfeeling indifference to the plight of the man she is dragging into the mire occasionally makes Vega seem slightly wooden - although it could more generously be read as Carmen maintaining a poker face - and her lusty consumption of fruit at key junctures seems unintentionally comic. But Vega brings a freshness to the role and offers a modern and decidedly bolshy incarnation of this archetypal Spanish character.
Although seen only through the eyes of men - both Mérimée and José narrate sections of the film - rather than represented in her own words, Carmen refuses to be constrained by the expectations or desires of others. As with classic film noir, the transgressive woman is not punished for the actual crimes she has committed but for doing as she pleases and for seeking unconditional freedom. Only in death can Carmen and her body be controlled by José, and his slow and erotic uncovering of Carmen's dead body in the final sequences of the film encapsulates the epigraph to Mérimée's novel - "Every woman is poison. But she has two good times: one when she's in bed, and the other when dead".
Overall, a stylish and sumptuous film - there are several instances of eye-catching beauty in terms of how Aranda frames a sequence and utilises colour via costume, set design, and lighting. But - Vega's performance aside - it is strangely lacking in the passion that the eponymous character is meant to inspire and that an Aranda film usually provides.Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2014