Vicente Aranda is known for his uninhibited treatment of raw emotions like sexual passion, jealousy and hatred. His 2003 adaptation of Prosper Mérimée's novella, "Carmen" showcases these magnificently. The script and his attention to minor details bring these fictional characters and the times that they lived in to life quite vividly.
While the great Carlos Saura treated his 1983 version of Carmen stylistically - juxtaposing characters in a modern day theater producing a Flamenco version of the same opera, Vicente Aranda interprets the original novel more closely, while adding his own embellishments like introducing Mérimée as a character within the film, bearing witness to unfolding events. The lush cinematography, impeccable art direction and costume design transport us to 1830's Seville where this story is set.
What lets it down however, may be the casting. While some of the actors fit the role to a point, the most important character of all - Carmen, doesn't. Which is a shame really - one of the reasons for this post is to focus on, and start the filmography of Paz Vega - possibly the prettiest actress ever to come out of Spain. The Carmen character is that of a ruthless vamp - I wasn't convinced Paz Vega was one - I think Laura del Sol made a better Carmen in Carlos Saura's version, as did Julia Migenes in Francesco Rosi's Italian version. Paz may have the native Andalucian features of Carmen - she hails from Seville herself - but that's as far as the comparison goes.
I had reviewed this film years ago, this is however a reappraisal with freshly cut scenes from DVD. In the coming days I will be updating scenes from my collection of films by Vicente Aranda and others here - much of the material may have already been reviewed by me elsewhere - but these will be rewritten, and the scenes will be newly cut from DVD's or BD's - focusing of course, on quality. I hope these will be among the best one can find today.
This is a great scene well recreated by Sr. Aranda. A cigar factory in 19th century Spain could only be described as a 'sweat shop'. There's no airconditioning, tempers flay, and what do you get - sweaty factory girls getting all rowdy. Carmen, with the shortest of tempers, shouldn't be messed with. Unaware of this, one woman pokes fun at her for being too slow in picking up José - the young corporal who's ignored Carmen's overtures so far. She throws Carmen a cigar after rubbing it in her vagina, and asks her to give it to José on her behalf - so that he'd know what a real woman smells like. Carmen however has heard enough when she is taunted for her gypsy heritage - strangely, she wasn't offended as much even when she was addressed as a whore!
José, now stripped of his rank and just released from a prison term for letting Carmen escape while in his custody, finally tracks her down at an officer's party. As a thank you gift, Carmen takes him to a brothel - one she occasionally rents herself when in need of some cash. Later, when José is about to leave to report back to duty, Carmen admonishes him for being a 'slave' to the army and persuades him to stay - until she decides otherwise. Keep an eye out for an unexpected glimpse of the lovely Paz (top right of my graphic) - I can see they tried to restrict its view during post production, but a few frames needed to remain.
This is a combination of four different scenes. First is when Carmen roundly insults the hapless José while returning another favour he did her. The second is when José asks Carmen to be his alone - he is now a fugitive wanted for killing his liutenent at the brothel, for being Carmen's customer. The third part is Carmen having sex publicly with José in the smuggler's cave. It's only in the final part of the scene does José painfully realise that Carmen is already married to the smuggler chief - she still manages to snuggle into his bed after her husband falls asleep.
Early in the scene, Carmen's husband draws her close while playing cards with his mates, rubs her vagina in broad view, and praising how her 'twat' always brings him luck. José is only too aware that Carmen would only bring his downfall, and that there is nothing he could do to stop destiny. When José learns that Carmen is now with Lucas, a famous bullfighter, he barges in, blasts the poor man, and drags Carmen to the church of the Holy Virgin. When Carmen steadfastly refuses to change her ways and become his wife, José knows he'd now reached the end of the road. This dramatic last scene is well shot.