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Directed by Francesco Rosi
Produced in 1984
Main Language - French with English subtitles
A tour de force of filmmaking that returns Bizet's opera to returning the opera to its sun-bleached roots in Andalusian folklore. It works like a dream on screen, says Michael Brooke.
The combination of the director of some of the grittiest political dramas of the 1960s and 70s and one of the best-loved of all great 19th-century operas seems wildly counterintuitive, but it works like a dream on screen.
The polar opposite of Ingmar Bergman's theatrically stylised The Magic Flute in all respects save artistic and musical merit, Francesco Rosi's Carmen is mainly shot outdoors in sun-bleached Spanish locations (by Pasqualino de Santis, who also shot Visconti's Death in Venice), returning the opera to its roots in Andalusian folklore by way of Prosper Mérimée's novella.
It remains true to Bizet's original then-controversial stipulation that it include spoken dialogue in between the arias, duets and choruses. The composer, like Rosi, intended to bring then-unprecedented realism to the normally rarefied world of opera, and one feels that he would have thoroughly approved of this treatment.
Disconcertingly, there's no music at all in the first four minutes. Instead, we watch the toreador Escamillo (Ruggero Raimondi, Losey's Don Giovanni) preparing for the kill in slow motion, the overture exploding into coruscating life as the bull collapses, in the process supplying a powerful metaphor that runs through the rest of the film.
A natural soprano, Julia Migenes retrained her voice to tackle a demanding mezzo part in order to snare the title role, and turned out to be perfectly cast: her Carmen is feisty, fiercely independent and unforgettably sensual, never more so than when she sings and dances the famous Habanera.
It's easy to see why Plácido Domingo's hapless Don José (a part he knew inside out thanks to having already performed it 150 times) falls head over heels for her, and also why she has no difficulty spurning his advances, regardless of their differing social positions: naturally, she prefers the dashing, far more overtly heroic Escamillo, with inevitably tragic consequences.
As one would expect, Rosi is acutely alert to the piece's sociological aspects, but he also knows when to foreground Bizet's contribution, and the cast, the Orchestre National de France and the Choeurs de Radio France under conductor Lorin Maazel rise magnificently to the occasion.
Michael Brooke on 21st June 2011
Author of 135 reviews
A sumptuously beautiful film adaptation of Bizet's dramatic opera starring Placido Domingo, Julia Migenes and Ruggero Raimondi.
With an authentic Spanish background, drama, passion and Bizet's marvellous music, Francesco Rosi's adaptation is a visual and auditory tour de force.
In 1820s Seville, naive soldier Don Jose falls under the spell of sensual temptress Carmen. He deserts from the army and gives up everything to be with her - only to be spurned in favour of the toreador Escamillo, with his desperate pleas for her to return only met with further humiliation.
Publisher: Second Sight
Length: 149 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 widescreen
Cat No: 2NDVD3202
Format: DVD Colour
- 2 discs
- Carmen: A Shooting Diary - A new documentary on the making of the film
- A Propos de Carmen: On the set of the film.