Carmen Movie Review

GDE Good Deed Entertainment
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Valerie Buhagiar
Screenwriter: Valerie Buhagiar
Cast: Natascha McElhone, Michela Farrugia, Steven Love, Richard Clarkin, Henry Zammit Cordina, Peter Galea
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: September 23, 2022

Natascha McElhone in Carmen (2022)

Americans are generally more religious than Europeans, but there are exceptions. Of the five countries where the Catholic church is so strong that abortions are prohibited without exceptions, two are in Europe: Vatican City and Malta. So it’s easy to accept a tradition in Malta that might bewilder even us on our side of the pond. The sister of a priest is expected to cater to her brother so completely that she must live a life of servitude so bleak that she has little chance for normal relationships.

That brings us to Carmen (Natascha McElhone) whose older brother Father Francis (Henry Zammit Cordina) is so rigid that even parishioners in his small village church make jokes about him. In one service a mother and her daughter sit near the rear of the sparsely attended Sunday gathering expressing their pity for Carmen who they consider a lost soul—alone except for her brother. Yet they cannot blame her completely, because they are sorry that she has to serve such a prig as Father Francis, who in his sermon bellows that “if your child is sinful, throw him out!”

Carmen is about to be thrown out herself since a new priest is coming to town, the priest’s sister Rita (Michaela Farrugia) leading the way. We can foreshadow that Rita will live the same life without charm, but when the brother is late in arriving and Carmen takes a seat inside the priest’s confessional box, villagers think that she is the priest and tell her their troubles. When she gives one woman’s advice on dealing with her drunk husband that is far from what any man of the cloth would give, she is on her way to becoming the most popular “priest” in town.

The Malta-born writer-director Valerie Buhagiar, whose 2013 film “Expecting” finds a woman’s giving her one-night-stand-newborn to her infertile best friend, this time delivers what could be called a Maltese feminist story taking place in the eighties about a fifty-year-old woman who has an epiphany after her brother’s death. Becoming homeless, she witnesses romance around her involving one Tonio (André Agius) and becomes determined to make up for lost time. Meeting Paulo (Steven Love), a much younger man who owns a pawnshop and takes her for a few spins around town including the country’s capital, Valletta, she is exhilarated by his attention and not long after that goes for a boat ride with Tom (Richard Clarkin), a date that does not turn out as well. Whether she will continue to find romantic relationships is anybody’s guess, but in a feel-good conclusion, she enjoys the most thrilling day of her life.

Natasha McElhone is in virtually every frame, speaking just a few words of Maltese and getting by in English with a southern European accent. This makes us wonder how so many people in the small country—one which, by the way, is one of the most expensive for tourists—choose to speak English as their first language. You’ll have to suspend disbelief just as you did when you saw movies in which both Nazis and their foes in the Resistance spoke in our official American language.

The film as a whole has dimensions of a fable with a few dream sequences and includes a colorful pigeon which, like the Maltese Falcon, is a symbol of loyalty to the lonely woman, leading her into adventures. The story is as simple as the villagers in the Maltese archipelago, one which can be enjoyed (as movie advertisements so often say) by the whole family. McElhone is burdened with speaking English throughout with a strange accent, delivering the goods nicely. As she and her young male friend zip around, we get to see parts of Malta without paying the stiff tariffs of that country’s hotels and restaurants.

88 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B