Prosper Mérimée never got an Oscar, but this inspector general of France’s historical monuments wrote the novella Carmen in 1845, and that prompted some 70 film treatments ... and here comes another. Most Carmen films have the co-parentage of Georges Bizet’s opera, but this one is different.
Not bothering to distinguish the film with a different title, choreographer Benjamin Millepied is now offering his take on Carmen, which has already made the rounds at film festivals —its West Coast premiere was at the 2023 Sonoma International Film Festival. It opened in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on April 21 and will make it to the San Francisco Bay Area on April 28.
Described as a “gritty modern-day tale,” the film has a score by Nicholas Britell, who is also the composer for Don’t Look Up and Cruella. With Millepied as director, dream-like dance sequences and magical realism dominate. The film stars Mexican actress Melissa Barrera and Irish actor Paul Mescal.
The plot follows a young and fiercely independent woman who is forced to flee her home in the Mexican desert following the brutal murder of her mother. Carmen survives an illegal border crossing into the U.S., only to be confronted by a lawless volunteer border guard, who cold-bloodedly murders two other immigrants in her group.
When the border guard and his patrol partner, Aidan (Paul Mescal), a Marine with PTSD, become embroiled in a deadly standoff, Carmen and Aidan are forced to escape together. “It’s a movie about freedom, love, and death — with lots of music and dance.” Millepied said. “It’s a complete reimagining of Carmen, with all-new music, about a woman who can love and be loved, and who expresses her freedom through movement and song.”
Millepied’s storied career as a dancer, choreographer, company director, and film director includes the choreography for Black Swan, through which he met Natalie Portman, who received the Best Actress Oscar for the film and whom he later married. Black Swan had 188 award nominations worldwide, scoring 61 wins.
The French-born Millepied was a principal dancer with New York City Ballet for a decade; among his choreography credits are collaborations with Philip Glass, Mark Bradford, Io Echo, Lil Buck, and Zeds Dead.
While working with the Baryshnikov Arts Center, he created the solo Years Later (2006) for Mikhail Baryshnikov. He has choreographed for New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Berlin Staatsoper, Mariinsky Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, Geneva Ballet, and Dutch National Ballet.
Elsewhere, the organization once called the SF International Asian American Film Festival, featuring both contemporary and classical films and music, is now known as CAAMFest (Center for Asian American Media Festival) and is dedicated almost exclusively to social issues, rock, and pop.
CAAMFest 2023 promises a celebration “with joyful tunes in music and dance.” Some examples from the May 11–21 lineup:
— Larry the Musical, based on the book Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong, about the Filipino labor organizer. This is a panel conversation with live performances of a few new songs. May 14 at 6 p.m. at the Great Star Theater.
— “The privilege to host Fanny: The Right to Rock, the amazing kick-ass band whose rediscovery tour CAAM is so honored to be part of, will be simultaneously a celebration of the past and a peek at a future we hope to be,” says CAAM Director of Programs Don Young of the Philippines’ first all-girl rock band, now the subject of a documentary. Screening on May 19 at 5:30 p.m. at SFMOMA and concert on May 20 at 1 p.m. at Yerba Buena Gardens.
— I Can’t Keep Quiet with Milck, screening and follow-up five years after “one woman’s quest for healing reverberated around the globe through her song ‘Quiet.’” With director Eurie Chung and executive producer Grace Lee. May 20 at 6 p.m. at SFMOMA.
— Topline, directed by Romeo Candido, a “musical dramedy about the world of professional songwriters, for young adults.” May 21 at 3:30 p.m. at the New Parkway Theater.
— “Closing Night: Juicy Fruity Party,” including Aïma the Dreamer, Lady Ryan, and the Emancipation. May 21 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. at 7th West.