ASR Film ~~ “Carmen” Showcases Fears, Perils of Fleeing Immigrants

By Woody Weingarten

Myth-like choreography — including a sharp-elbow crowd sequence at a bare-knuckle boxing match — embellishes Carmen, a new movie.

Carmen is a singular, non-linear, dramatic film that exquisitely blends disparate elements: classical and flamenco dance, mournful and wistful singing, suspense and southern border violence, mother-daughter love and a couple’s intimacy while employing an undocumented workers’ underground railway of sorts, and more than a little religious symbolism.

Highlighted are striking close-ups that etch the joys and pains of life into individual faces, and far-distant camera shots that in both silhouette and color display the beauties of the natural world (including mountains, meadows, foliage, and birds on wires). Plus Ferris wheels, highways, and taut action in near-total blackness. Featured, too, are recurring images of fire and gunfire, feet and hands, all augmented by pounding music with notes of edgy, ominous violins.

Carmen is a singular, non-linear, dramatic film that exquisitely blends disparate elements…

It’s a flick delivered in English and Spanish that will be enjoyed by artsy movie house regulars but will undoubtedly be skipped by those who’d prefer to see the latest Avengers fly-athon.

The title role of Carmen is played by 32-year-old Mexican actress Melissa Barrera.

The title role is poignantly filled by 32-year-old Mexican actress Melissa Barrera, a breakout star of In the Heights who here, after her mom is shot to death, survives an illegal crossing with the help of Aiden, a Border Patrol deserter who grapples with more than a touch of disassociation or PTSD or God-knows-what — something that makes it difficult for him to relate to anybody but Carmen.

Barrera portrays the “tough but fragile” Carmen by alternately exuding fear, sadness, joy, glam and sexiness, and by dancing and singing up proverbial storms.

Aidan, an ex-Marine with stripes tattooed on his arm, is effectively played by 27-year-old Paul Mescal, an Irish actor who earned a 2023 Best Actor Oscar nomination for Aftersun, a coming-of-age tale.

Paul Mescal and Melissa Barrera star in “Carmen”.

Not incidentally, the fight-to-the-death boxing scene in which “people like to bet against a white boy,” is unique because it showcases krumpers, dancers who’ve used the form of krumping to escape gang life and non-violently show emotions while stressing energetic, sharp movements of their arms and chests.

Carmen’s goal is to reach her godmother Masilda (Rossy de Palma, who’s been in more than a couple Almodóvar films) and, thereby, sanctuary of sorts in the La Sombra Pederosa nightclub in Los Angeles.

When all’s said, it’s probably best to let loose of the 1 hour, 56-minute film’s storyline and dialogue and just lie back, relax, and enjoy the direction of French-born Benjamin Millepied, who choreographed Black Swan. Otherwise, you could be bothered by the likes of a cutaway to a dance sequence in the middle of a love-making scene — or hard-to-digest lines that indicate it’s important to know who you are, the things you’re running from often turn out to be the things you’re running toward, or “I will live inside you forever.”

“…Barrera and Mescal’s performances arouse the desperation of strangers turned lovers on the run…” — The Hollywood Reporter

Though this beautiful, sometimes poetic tragedy was very loosely inspired by Bizet’s opera about a Roma (gypsy) woman, it contains no hint of bullfights or matadors or multiple seductions. Like the opera, which in turn was based on an 1845 novella, it does spotlight power struggles involving social class, race, and gender.

Carmen will open April 28 at the Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco; at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College Ave, Berkeley; and at the Century Regency, 280 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael.


ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle,  he is the  author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmatesand Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: or or

Directed byBenjamin Millepied
Screenplay byAlexander Dinelaris Jr.
Cinematography byJörg Widmer
Distributing CompanyMagnolia
Release DateApril 28, 2023
Runtime1 hr 56 min
ShowingLandmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco;
Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College Ave, Berkeley;
Century Regency, 280 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael.
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!


Other Voices…

"...undeniably exhilarating to watch one of the world’s most accomplished choreographers team up with one of its most virtuosic composers for the kind of aggressively unclassifiable movie that would never exist if not for these two artists reaching beyond their disciplines to create it themselves."
Indie Wire
"...“Carmen” was the best movie this critic saw at the Toronto International Film Festival."
Sarah Manvel, Critics Notebook
"...Luck was on the side of Carmen director Benjamin Millepied. His two leads, Paul Mescal and Melissa Barrera, are both riding hot streaks at the same time. Mescal for his roles in "God’s Creatures" and "Aftersun"; Barrera for "In the Heights" and a pair of "Scream" movies. They...make for a scorching pair in Millepied’s gritty, contemporary take on Georges Bizet‘s opera..."Punch Drunk Critics