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U-Carmen eKhayelistsha
cast: Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni, Lungelwa Blou, Zweilungile Sidloyi, and Andries Mbali

director: Mark Dornford-May

120 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Carmen works in a tin-shack cigarette factory in a South African township, carefully keeping eager suitors at bay. She wants to enjoy her life without giving up her freedom - and then she meets police sergeant Jongi, a man whose uptight exterior belies a dark past. They're completely wrong together, but they can't live without each other. Soon he has left the police for a life of crime beside her, but her determination to remain independent and his desire to reform her are going to lead to a fatal collision...

Yes, it's Bizet's opera Carmen, translated into Xhosa and transported to the new South Africa; based, in fact, on a famous theatre production that brought opera to the townships and provided opportunities for a new generation of performers. The relocation works superbly, capturing the anarchic energy and colliding worlds of the original in an instantly understandable modern context. The performances are superb, particularly Pauline Malefane, an actress of enormous presence and poise. Her selfish, capricious Carmen holds the whole production together, manipulating every man who crosses her path like a master con-woman. It's also good to see an actress in a leading role - as a highly sexual and desirable woman, no less - who's considerably more, urm, rounded than your typical Hollywood stick-insect.

It really is a filmed opera, slow plot and repetitive choruses and all, so if singing policemen try your patience, it may not be for you. However, the visual energy of township life fills every frame, making these heightened emotions entirely believable, and the doomed love story just sweeps you along. Even if you don't think of yourself as an opera fan, this exuberant and moving film might just change your mind. Highly recommended.

DVD extras: trailer, an interesting 'making of', and interviews with the director and star, both of whom have interesting stories to tell about how they became involved with this groundbreaking production.

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