First Name: Carmen

84 minutes

Jean-Luc Godard's dazzlingly witty twist on the celebrated opera, set to Beethoven string quartets rather than Bizet's symphonic arias, is probably the biggest shot in the arm for the director's 1980s, pre-essay renaissance while showing the way that led him there, and remains one of the most playful entries in his idiossyncratic catalogue. Simultaneously a no-holds-barred study of lust, an erudite treatise on love and a self-deprecating, prescient look at filmmaking, Prénom Carmen transforms Bizet's feisty cigarette seller Carmen into an aspiring terrorist about to kidnap an industrial (Maruschka Detmers), and Don José into Joseph (Jacques Bonnaffé), a grunting junior beat cop mad with love and jealousy.
     Into this maelstrom sumptuously photographed by regular DP Raoul Coutard, mr. Godard throws himself as a curmudgeonly filmmaker uncle of Carmen's, his figure cutting a scathingly burlesque figure in the midst of all the alternately brusquely romantic and carelessly violent goings-on. In fact, one of the keys to the film's disconcerting shifts lies in the book mr. Godard carries under his arm in one of his scenes – a coffee-table treatise on Buster Keaton. And it is hard indeed not to see the connection being underlined between mr. Keaton's deadpan slapstick and the playacting, deadpan quality of many of the film's devices – not least the constant cutting to pictures of waves rolling into shore, suggesting the “new wave” that revealed the director continues to roll along, flowing back in with added weight and a newfound self-referentiality.
     For all the burlesque references, though, Prénom Carmen achieves some genuine moments of poignance and emotion, and mr. Godard's ability to conjure magic with the basic elements of cinema remains undiminished.

Starring Maruschka Detmers, Jacques Bonnaffé, Myriem Roussel, Christophe Odent, Pierre-Alain Chapuis, Bertrand Liebert, Alain Bastien, Hippolyte Girardot, Odile Roire, Valérie Dréville, Christine Pignet, Jean-Michel Denis, Jacques Villeret, Jean-Luc Godard (uncredited).
     Directed by mr. Godard; written by Anne-Marie Miéville; directors of photography (colour by LTC), Raoul Coutard, Jean-Bernard Menoud; costume designer, Renée Renard; film editors, Fabienne Alvarez, Suzanne Lang-Willar.
     An Alain Sarde presentation of a Sara Films/JLG Films/Films A2 co-production. (Original French distributor, Parafrance Films. World sales, Studiocanal.)
     Screened: DVD, Lisbon, June 14th 2011. 


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