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PRENOM CARMEN

France / Switzerland, 1983 (MIFF 1985)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Prenom Carmen is quintessential Godard, but more immediately enjoyable than either Every Man for Himself or Passion. Godard credits Prosper Merimee as his source material, and this Carmen is as far removed from Bizet as it is from the recent films by Saura and Rosi. Most of the music is, in fact, by Beethoven; the action proceeds ellipticaily, interspersed with scenes of the Quator Prat ensemble rehearsing the quartets.

Carmen is here not a gypsy but a member of a terrorist gang, and her jealous lover is a policeman with whom she develops a relationship following his failure to prevent her escape after a bank robbery. Godard, himself, gives a droll performance as a resident in a sanitarium for washed-up filmmakers, who finds himself working again when the terrorists hire him with the intention that his filmmaking practices will provide them with a cover-up for a planned kidnapping.

"How can you fail to respond - even if the response consists of throwing tomatoes at the screen - to a filmmaker who takes his modern-day Carmen and Jose (Maruschka Detmers and Jacques Bonaffe) and expresses the gypsy in their souls by means of an eclectic and eccentric soundtrack, several surreal shoot-outs, and a romance as non-stop talky as the one in Breathless?

"There are recurring shots of a string quartet rehearsing Beethoven and of a foaming, khaki-colour sea. (The sounds from each alternate or overlap on the soundtrack almost throughout, seldom yielding volume even during dialogue scenes.) There are love scenes of outre sculptural improvisation. There are sinister waiters and a mysterious old chandelier cleaner. There is Godard as Godard chain-smoking and pacing about in a mental hospital. (Ah-ha!) And there is pure comic-poetic energy in the way the Carmen story - Pierrot Le Fou one hundred years early - is turned into a Godardian gymnasium for imaginative anarchy."

- Harlan Kennedy, Film Comment

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