How to watch Carmen in the UK

When is an opera not an opera? When it’s been stripped for parts and turned into an indie film. Such is the case with Carmen, which is in UK cinemas now.

French dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied (Black Swan, and one of the most awkward moments in awards season history) makes his directorial debut, using the barest bones of Prosper Mérimée’s tragic novella (or Georges Bizet’s opera, take your pick) to co-write the script with Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Loïc Barrère.

Re-imagining the narrative as a kind of sun-drenched lovers-on-the-lam Tex-Mex crime caper, Carmen sees In the Heights’ and Scream’s Melissa Barrera as the titular temptress, here a runaway who crosses the border illegally after her mother is gunned down by cartel footsoldiers. She hooks up with sensitive, PTSD-addled border guard Aidan (Paul Mescal, recently seen in Aftersun). The pair find themselves fleeing retribution after he shoots a fellow soldier, and soon we’re on the outskirts of Los Angeles in a club run by Masilda (Almodovar fave Rossy de Palma).

The music comes courtesy of Succession composer Nicholas Britell and Malick veteran Jörg Widmer is on cinematography duties, capturing all the desert haze and flickering neon. Plus we get Elsa “Mrs Thor” Pataky and rapper Tracy “The DOC” Curry in supporting roles. However the critical response has been pretty middling despite Carmen’s impressive pedigree, citing a lack of respect for the source material and thin characterisation.

Still, it looks the business, and sometimes the aesthetic is enough: Barrera and Mescal make for a ridiculously photogenic central pair, and Widmer certainly knows his way around magic hour. While there’s nothing inherently wring with mining extant material for new and transgressive works, it seems that Millepied’s Carmen isn’t exactly Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge. Check it out for yourself at your local fleapit.