Even for the non-opera loving public the name CARMEN is immediately recognized as an opera by Bizet about a gypsy girl whose capricious loves destroy men. But as much as the opera is now considered a staple in every opera house repertoire, the real story of the wild gypsy lass as created by Prosper Mérimée in 1845 has never been told as well as in this cinematic version by the abundantly gifted Spanish director Vicente Aranda ('Juana la Loca AKA Mad Love','Amantes', 'If they tell you I fell', etc.). Incorporating the author of the novel as a main character seeking the story of Carmen from one of her lovers - José - provides just the right vantage for the story of this famous gypsy wild lady to be told.
Carmen (the amazingly beautiful and talented Paz Vega) works in a cigar factory in Seville, a factory adjoining the military station where the very proper José (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is stationed. Carmen is tempestuous and in a fight instigated by a fellow factory worker bringing attention to the fact that Carmen is a gypsy, Carmen murders the co-worker and is arrested. José is physically attracted to the voluptuous Carmen and when Carmen flirts with him he consents to allow her to escape - his payback is the promise for a night of passion with Carmen. Carmen keeps her pact, providing José with his first sexual encounter, and José is doomed. His lack of military discipline results in his losing his rank and being imprisoned for a while, but at his release José encounters Carmen again, kills a fellow officer, and in fear runs off to the hills to live with the smugglers and gypsies that are Carmen's people. Many incidents occur to try the passionate bond between the lovers, but when Carmen's real husband is released from prison, destructive behaviors take over, behavior's that include Carmen's infatuation and affair with a bullfighter and the passion of Carmen and José comes to a tragic end.
One factor that makes the story (as adapted for the screen by director Aranda and Joaquim Jordà move so well is the role that Prosper Mérimée (Jay Benedict) plays: his questioning of José completes the story that Bizet's opera only outlines. The acting is superb, the cinematography by Paco Femenia and the excellent musical score by José Nieto contribute enormously to the success of this very fine film. This is a must for lovers of the opera Carmen, and a splendid action drama for those viewers who admire historical pieces. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, September 08