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Koch Lorber presents
U-Carmen (2004)

"I ignore all the rules
Love's a stranger to me
If you don't want me then I'm yours
But if I want you, then be afraid"

- Carmen (Pauline Malefane)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: August 20, 2007

Stars: Paulene Malefane, Andile Tshoni, Lungelwa Blou, Zorro Sidloyi, Andries Mbali
Director: Mark Dornford-May

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, language, adult themes
Run Time: 02h:07m:23s
Release Date: August 14, 2007
UPC: 741952311799
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BBB+ C+

DVD Review

Opera is always ripe for re-interpretation, and one of the more interesting productions is this South African adaptation of Bizet's ever popular Carmen. Transplanted from Spain to Cape Town and from French to Xhosa, the story retains most of its basic power, but fails to bring enough passion and sexual heat to the table to make it completely successful.

The story remains mostly the same; Carmen (Pauline Malefane) works in a cigarette factory, playing the hard to get seductress. Jongikhaya (Jose in the opera) is a local cop ensnared by Carmen. Their relationship progresses from initial passion to disillusionment, and finally murder. The role of Escamillo is minimized, here taken by Lulamile, a singer returning home. Jongi's character is fleshed out by making him an outcast from his home village, where he left in shame after the accidental death of his brother. His brother's widow, Nomakhaya (Jose's fiancee Micaela in the opera), tries to get him to come home and see his mother before she dies, but Carmen has bewitched him.

Where the film succeeds is in translating the setting to Khayelitsha, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town; filmed on location, it adds the gritty reality the story needs. The music is handled well also, excisions aside; the singers, considering their lack of previous performing background, acquit themselves very well. The move from French to Xhosa proves no issue, and the changes in the libretto to suit the setting aren't a problem. The film looks good, and first time director Dornford-May has done an excellent job making a film, rather than a filmed version of a stage production.

Where the film stumbled for me was in the central performances, as Malefane and Tshoni have no real chemistry together, and buying any kind of relationship between them stretches the believability, even for opera, too far. It's also hard to accept Carmen as the object of so much lust; this may simply be a case of differing standards of beauty, but an unattractive woman does become more attractive because she thinks she's attractive. This is in part a question of personality; this Carmen is intended to have some vulnerability, at least according to comments in the extras, but she comes off as a bitchy, nasty woman with few redeeming qualities. Jongi is a much better character, but his weakness makes him difficult to feel sorry for, though I wasn't sorry to see him shank Carmen at the end.

Despite my misgivings, I did enjoy the film, as it provides a new spin on a warhorse of the repertoire, and does so in a fascinating fashion. This is the kind of film that will be way below most people's radar, so if you have any interest in opera, definitely give it a look.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, the picture is fine if unexceptional; night scenes sometimes show some unappealing noisiness, but otherwise there's not much to complain about. The subtitles are large, yellow, and free of glaring errors.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Xhosano

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 2.0 mix presents the music well, with a clean, bright mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interviews with Mark Dornford-May, Pauline Malefane, and Andiswa Kedama
Extras Review: A brief making of (07m:12s) has interviews with several of the actors and staff, giving a general overview of the film and its genesis. It would have been nice to see some footage of the original stage production, but no dice. Some of the material is duplicated in the interviews section, which has short interviews with director Dornford-May (05m:23s), Kalemane (06m:06s), and translator/actress Andiswa Kedame (04m:33s). Brief, but interesting enough. The U.S. theatrical trailer ties things up.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

At first, U-Carmen might seem unusual, but its translation of Bizet's beloved opera into a South African setting works very well, and the Dimpho Di Kopane theater company acquits itself well in their first film appearance.


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