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CARMEN (aka: BIZET’S CARMEN)(director/writer: Francesco Rosi; screenwriters: based on Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen/libretto is by Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy/novella is by Prosper Mérimée/Tonino Guerra; cinematographer: Pasqualino De Santis; editors: Ruggero Mastroianni/Colette Semprún; music: Lorin Maazel; cast: Julia Migenes-Johnson (Carmen), Placido Domingo (Don José), Ruggero Raimondi (Escamillo), Faith Esham (Micaëla), François Le Roux (Moralès), Jean-Paul Bogart (Zuñiga); Runtime: 152; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Patrice Ledoux; Columbia TriStar Home Video; 1984-Italy/France-in French with English subtitles)
“A surefire treat for opera buffs.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s based on Georges Bizet’s popular 1875 opera Carmen and from French author Prosper Mérimée’s original novella from 1852; it’s a surefire treat for opera buffs. Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi (“Lucky Luciano”/”Three Brothers”/”Christ Stopped at Eboli”) handsomely directs this very entertaining opera film and uses spoken dialogue to make it seem natural. To achieve authenticity, cameraman Pasqualino De Santis got some stunningly lush location shots while filming in Andalucia. The screen is lit up by a sultry Julia Migenes-Johnson (an American opera singer) as the passionate gypsy cigarette factory girl Carmen, while Placido Domingo plays the naive corporal, Don José. Though his acting is wooden his singing is heavenly. In circa 1820, the corporal is newly stationed in Seville to its fortress and will soon tragically become Carmen’s victim.

Don José receives a letter from his elderly dying mom in his hometown of Navarra that he should marry the pretty and well-mannered hometown letter-bearer, his fiancée, Micaëla (Faith Esham). But after Don José supervises Carmen’s arrest after she’s in a fight with another factory girl, she seduces him to abandon his career and his dear mother’s wishes. Soon after she dumps him in favor of the toreador, Escamillo (Ruggero Raimondi). This gets Don José crazed with jealousy and she humiliates him further by taunting him as he pleads with her to return to him. It leads to the red-clad Carmen goading her incensed stooge to commit murder on the sun-baked sand.

Though overlong, overblown and lumbering, the music is great, the sets are picture-perfect and the singers are high-spirited making things convincing, as this neorealistic treatment of Bizet’s opera sizzles with passion and beauty more than it digs deeper into its characters’ psyches. Lorin Maazel conducts the Orchestre National de France in a fine performance. Choreographer Antonio Gades provides us with a number of dazzling passionate Andalusian folk dances that are colorfully photographed.

There was a Cecil B. de Mille silent film version that dates back to 1915 and starred opera singer Geraldine Farrar. In 1983-84 there were other versions of Carmen to hit the big screen, such as Carlos Saura’s flamenco version, a film by Claes Fellbom from Sweden, Peter Brook’s stage version of La Tragedie de Carmen, and Jean Luc Godard’s First Name: Carmen–the most interesting of the bunch.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”