Film Review: CARMEN (2022): Benjamin Millepied’s Dazzling Film Features Solid Performances from Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal


Melissa Barrera Paul Mescal Carmen

Carmen Review

Carmen (2022) Film Review, a movie directed by Benjamin Millepied, written by Loic Barrere, Alexander Dinelaris and Lisa Loomer and starring Melissa Barrera, Paul Mescal, Elsa Pataky, Nicole da Silva, Rossy de Palma, Tara Morice, Richard Brancatisano, Kaan Gulder, Benedict Hardie, Nico Cortez, Pip Edwards, Marina Tamayo, Ryan Oliver Gelbart, Morgan Smallbone, Kevin Macisaac, The D.O.C. and Damien Thomlinson.

The concept of director Benjamin Millepied’s film, Carmen, feels very abstract in the grand scheme of things but the filmmaker does manage to get a lot of interesting images up on the screen in the new picture which boasts a terrific musical score by Nicholas Britell. This movie is fueled by its two central performances by Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal as would-be lovers in a complex situation that only gets more complicated as the plot (or what there is of one) moves forward. Red lighting and fire are used as metaphors for the passion developed between the two characters portrayed by Barrera and Mescal in the film— Carmen (which means “poem”) and Aidan. While the film has some ambiguous scenes and lacks intelligent dialogue, the two leads make the movie dazzle with ambitious integrity.



Carmen is a Mexican woman who is being sought after when her passionate mother, Zilah (Marina Tamayo) dances her last steps before her violent murder. Before she leaves Carmen, Zilah instructs Carmen to make her way to Lost Angeles to meet up with a club owner named Masila (Rossy de Palma). Carmen watches her house burn down and won’t make it in L.A. without a fight and some help from a man named Aidan (Mescal).

Aiden is a guitar player/veteran from the Marines who is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He’s at a barbecue drinking soda and needs a job. His sister, Julieanne (Nicole da Silva) thinks getting a job would be a good idea for Aiden. So, Aiden goes to work for a border patrol guard named Mike (Benedict Hardie). When Mike attempts to threaten Carmen’s life for crossing the border, Aiden intervenes and shoots Mike. Soon, Carmen and Aiden are on the run with the authorities in pursuit.

When Aiden and Carmen reach her mom’s friend Masila’s club, we meet a bartender named Gabrielle (a well-cast Elsa Pataky). Carmen wants to perform there while Aiden gets involved in a scenario of his own which will remind many of the hit film, Fight Club. Barrera sings beautifully and it is an added talent of the actress who is so much more of a gift to cinema than her Scream roles may suggest to viewers.

One of the movie’s unique scenes is set at a carnival with Carmen and some other women dancing to perfection. The film dazzles in scenes such as this one but it’s also hard to see the connection between Carmen and Aiden initially. The picture works more when it shows us the couple is falling in love through images rather than when it tells that fact through words. There are scenes which are imaginative and set in a fantasy world (one is set in a desert). They are not sequences grounded in the film’s harsh realities, however. Rather, they serve to add many dimensions to the lead characters’ personalities throughout the movie.

Nicholas Britell’s score captures the essence of the themes the movie is portraying. From seeking to escape their mundane realities, the two central characters find in each other a love that could be just as beneficial as it could be harmful to their well-being. There are consequences for the love they feel towards one another and the movie doesn’t shy away from showing the audience the passionate feelings the two characters develop for one another in exciting ways.

Melissa Barrera has never been more vulnerable on screen in one of her best performances to date. Paul Mescal is able to mix sensitivity with a macho type of charisma to great effect. Both performers show tremendous range through their work in the movie. Fresh off of an Oscar nomination for Aftersun, it’s easy to see why Mescal is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought after talents.

A terrific supporting turn is found in the character of Masila, Carmen’s godmother. As played with tremendous energy by Rossy de Palma, we see why the character was so important to Carmen’s mother and why she was such a driving force in her life.

As Carmen reaches its last moments, it becomes an exercise in style over substance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing given the ambiguity of the movie as a whole. But, the stylistic approach to the film makes the movie leave a lasting effect on the viewer that will be hard to shake off.

Carmen is a mix of musical interludes, dance sequences and action that includes songs which may not always be the most memorable but do help move the plot forward nevertheless. Millepied has crafted a unique movie which will not appeal to everyone but for those willing to just go with the themes the movie presents, this film will take you to a cinematic world unlike any other. It’s a wholly original movie.

Rating: 7.5/10

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