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Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // August 5, 2008
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Georges Bizet's opera "Carmen" has familiarized modern culture with its captivating aria "Habanera", a gorgeous tune made recognizable by such American pop bits as The Bad News Bears film and many others. But the story of Carmen itself is a passionate and fraught tale of a woman's uncontrollable sensuality -- along with the effects she has on the equally interesting male characters that surround her. With adaptation to film, it's difficult to replicate the whims of the gypsy prostitute-esque Carmen in a meaningful dramatic light. As shown by Vicente Aranda's adaptation of Carmen with Paz Vega as the central antagonistic harlot, it can result to little more than stylized-yet-bloated period "skin"-ema.

The Film:

Carmen takes on a popularized flashback dynamic as it tells the tale in 1800's Spain of the lowly gypsy harlequin (Paz Vega, Sex and Lucia) who has self-admittedly sold her soul to Satan -- and acts accordingly. It begins with her beyond-flirtatious beckons towards French writer Prospero, the eventual author of Carmen's tale in novel form, resulting in a conflict between the two of them and her maddened lover Jose (Leonardo Sbaraglia, Intacto). After Jose lands himself in jail shortly after, Prospero discovers the need to aid in his release by appealing to the powers of the church. But when Prospero compassionately delves into Jose's history and the reasoning behind his jail sentence, the truths behind both his and the temptress Carmen's crazed actions unspool the notions once held about their characters.

We're dragged through Jose's history as a soldier in the army and his tumultuous descent through the ranks all thanks to the seductive ways of a haphazard gypsy working in a cigar-rolling compound. Thankfully, Paz Vega's presence on screen grips your vision with little relent as Carmen, which provides sufficient explanation to Jose's fall. She grasps the character's hedonism, both in demeanor and in uninhibited bodily exposure, by fuming with passion both from her eyes and her seductive body movements as she loosely and devilishly frolics between men. Much like Louie's gravity to Lestat in Interview with the Vampire, Carmen's gothic allure proves undeniable for Jose because of his own worldly emptiness.

But the attraction stops there. Carmen is a two-piece puzzle composed of an unwavering seductress and the deconstructive effects that she burdens on the men in her life, especially her Jose. Paz Vega holds up her end of the deal by proving to be quite the convincing half-to-wholly nude devilish temptress, so much that her supporting cast disappears underneath her shadowy exterior. Every male character involved with Carmen, especially Jose, fails to grab any investment of interest. The austere efforts of Argentine heartthrob Leonardo Sbaraglia aren't enough to give the sedated ex-soldier Jose the energy needed to tango with Vega's Carmen. Her many sordid affairs, which erupt in bloodshed or heartbreak with metronome like precision, deflate in a bland and overstuffed fashion in response to its unstaunched energy. Put bluntly, their mangled interactions could bore an opera aficionado on Red Bull.

Part of it comes from director Aranda's effort to create Carmen's rich historical atmosphere and its lead character's energy, both which stir up attention in well-spaced gusts between its breadths of erotic monotony. I enjoyed soaking into the cinematography and set design that backdrops each scene, especially anytime crimson hues leaked into the image. Red is a focal hue here, both visually and in emotional "color" as it tries to flush the film with heated and spicy richness. It's also a mild foreshadowing mechanism for the splashes of violence that arise in the film. As Carmen's energy dissipates into a spiral of lavish nudity and underwhelming drama, it's a shame that this rosy disposition doesn't trickle over into the other scattered performances more. Paz Vega is something to behold against the dusty and passionate photography, but not enough to justify the film's unsatisfying range of stale emotion.

The DVD:

Lions Gate's DVD for Carmen features alluring coverart that brings sultry Paz Vega to the front and center from the get-go, though the silver-topped disc isn't quite as interesting. The menu design focuses more on Spanish-speaking navigation, as text is visible in both bright yellow for Spanish and dark red for English.

The Video:

With all points considered Carmen's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer looks quite good. There's a bit of a problem with black levels in a few scenes, rendering a grainy and gray-ish coloring sporadically. Plus, Carmen looks quite dusty and slightly hazy in outdoor scenes. In general, though, color depth and detail levels are handled nicely with little to no edge enhancement or digitization visible.

The Audio:

The 2.0 Stereo track is as vanilla as they come for Carmen, sporting next to no dynamic qualities outside of its serviceable aural levels. Dialogue is fairly clear, consistently maintaining a slightly muffled quality. It gets the job done without any manjor distortion. Interesting to note is that the disc defaults to a subtitle-less audio setup, which is limited to English and Spanish optional texts.

The Extras:

No extras have been made available on this disc outside of a Scene Selection function.


Final Thoughts:

Give Carmen a Rental for Paz Vega's haunting performance and the golden cinematography surrounding the story. It's a shame that the dramatic energy and supporting performances weren't as engulfing as Vega's presence as the lead, because most of those interesting dynamics between Carmen and her lovers gets lost in the lustful essence of it all. Carmen's still worth a look for its strengths, though, as well as for the solid transfer that pours the warmth of the film's image onto the screen.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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