Evaluate | ‘Carmen’: A tragic romance, in additional methods than one

(2 stars)

The dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied makes an formidable, puzzlingly uneven directorial debut with “Carmen,” a scattershot interpretation of a narrative nonetheless mostly related to Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera. On this stylized multigenre model, Millepied units his tragic romance on the U.S.-Mexico border, the place the title character, performed by Melissa Barrera, obeys the deathbed want of her beloved mom and units out for California. It’s on that fraught journey that she meets Aidan (Paul Mescal), a former Marine who aspires to be a musician however takes a gig as a contract border agent (learn: vigilante) for the cash. When a colleague means that at the least somebody on the squad ought to communicate Spanish, one other replies, “Why? Do you communicate deer?”

Along with his lambent blue eyes and perennially wounded expression, Aidan is clearly too delicate for this world. As he and Carmen make their technique to Los Angeles, Millepied finds each alternative he can — whether or not it is smart or not — to have somebody, normally Barrera, escape in a sinuously expressive dance quantity. (Maybe in tribute to Carlos Saura’s attractive 1983 adaptation, this “Carmen” opens with a riveting flamenco, carried out by Marina Tamayo, that turns right into a wordless showdown with a drug runner.) Millepied’s “Carmen” isn’t an opera, precisely, however neither is it a musical: Though the filmmaker indulges the identical heightened feelings and unsubtle staging because the classics of these varieties, he by no means strikes a convincing steadiness between of-the-moment naturalism and outsize expression.

The result’s that “Carmen” usually feels aimless, its draggy, unfocused vitality underscored by a marked lack of real chemistry between the 2 enticing stars. Issues perk up significantly when Almodóvar rep participant Rossy De Palma arrives on the scene as a nightclub owner-performer who was a good friend of Carmen’s late mom. If her dancing is usually awkward, De Palma injects much-needed campy humor into in any other case drearily self-serious proceedings.

One of many chief attracts of “Carmen” isn’t simply the dancing — which is sometimes dazzling however extra usually underwhelming — however a rating written by the nice Nicholas Britell, most well-known for his good “Succession” theme and his collaboration with Barry Jenkins. Though there are sonic glimpses of Britell’s signature ostinato right here, they’re too usually drowned out by choirs that are supposed to be heavenly however simply sound pretentious and grandiose.

Overwrought and overthought, this “Carmen” by some means winds up being underbaked, as Millepied throws numerous concepts on the display, with valuable few taking maintain with any conviction. “Ay yi yi,” De Palma’s character moans sorrowfully at one level. We all know how she feels.

R. At space theaters. Accommodates sturdy language, some violence and nudity. 116 minutes.

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