U-Carmen eKhayelitsha Mark Dornford-May
Published Aug 01, 2006This is Bizets famed opera Carmen translated into Xhosa and performed in modern-day South African locations. Carmen (Pauline Malefane) is the spitfire who loves and leaves as she sees fit, and winds up dead as a result; her opera is a perennial tale that could easily lend itself to eccentric interpretations. Would that we had one here.
Director Mark Dornford-May is the man behind the production, who started the Dimpho Di Kopane theatre company that begat the performers here, and many of them shine in the movie. Theres no denying the talent on hand (Malefane, in particular, is a standout in the title role) but my mind wandered throughout the screening and I cant say you should rush out to see it.
Theres nothing exactly wrong with it: the voices are great, the location is apropos and Bizets music demands the full Dolby treatment it receives. But despite its prize at Berlin, Im overwhelmed by the "not terribly interesting direction and the fact that I have no idea what its driving at. If its simply an update, its lacking in purpose; if its a political tract, I cant decipher it; and if its an excuse to put on an opera, its lacking the stylistic chops to push it over the top.
What the whole thing needs is wit not the thudding connection between the operas poverty and South Africas but a genuine program that would not try to fit things into Bizets mould and perhaps manipulate the opera instead of playing it straight.
Its not a bad movie but its slightly earnest about very vague notions, and Id rather it be a stronger creative force. (Mongrel Media)