Carmen (2023)

Director: Benjamin Millepied

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Paul Mescal, Elsa Pataky, Rossy de Palma, Nicole da Silva, Tara Morice, Benedict Hardie

Opening in the Chihuahuan Desert, the scene focuses on a woman rhythmically striking the floor with such aggression as two armed men approach. Tensions rise as the woman's footwork increases, saying so much despite her lips not moving, until the situation culminates with her death. Her mourning daughter, Carmen (Melissa Barrera), burns down the house intending to leave behind her old life and persevere towards an uncertain future. The scene then cuts to Aidan (Paul Mescal), who finds his boxing practice interrupted when nearby dry grass begins burning. A connection is highlighted between these currently unconnected characters, as an unknown future lays before them both.

Director Benjamin Millepied reimagines Bizet's Opera of the same name as a dance extravaganza, following the titular character forced to flee her home. After crossing the border into the U.S., Carmen finds herself in a horrifying situation with a border patrol agent, until she's saved by the agent's partner, Aidan. As the pair travel to Los Angeles, they find solace and love in each other while the police hunt closes in.

Barrera effectively captures Carmen's grief-stricken self, desperately trying to recapture how her mother danced while feeling discouraged upon falling short. She becomes inspired to honour her parent by instead expressing herself through dancing how she feels. Offering help is Aiden, a closed-off Marine who felt constrained by local prospects. Because border patrol is the only work in town, he feels pressured to work alongside people who callously compare their work to hunting deer. Mescal effectively captures the hinted trauma through sad eyes, only opening up during the musical moments.

Despite the pair's effective performances, the central relationship is hampered by how underdeveloped it feels amidst a feature regularly rushing key elements. This is where the directorial flourishes tower over the lacking screenplay, as the aesthetical dance sequences express the character's feelings effectively in this underwritten tale. A highlight is a climactic fight taken to earn money, exceptionally conveying the situation right down to the phenomenal vocals. Key to it all is Nicholas Britell's astounding musical score, bringing an operatic quality which returns the story to the original inspiration. Despite some consistent issues, there's promise shown in this timely romance glimpsed through musical expression.

Carmen is available in select UK cinemas now