Review: U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha (2005)

U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha (2005)

Directed by: Mark Dornford-May | 120 minutes | drama, romance, musical | Actors: Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni, Andries Mbali, Andiswa Kedama, Ruby Mthethwa, Bulelwa Cosa, Zintle Mgole, Lungelwa Blou, Zamile Gantama, Zweilungile Sidloyi

‘U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha’ is a fascinating experiment. Can you film such a classic of European culture in a completely different environment? That appears to work very well.

Do not think that you will be presented with sophisticated decors. The film starts with raw footage from the townships. Slowly you find out who the actors/singers are and how director Dornford-May gives both the story and the music its place. Ultimately, the music plays the leading role. The songs, if you may be so immodest as to call them that, are indeed surrounded by “real” imagery and acted out scenes, but that is really an excuse to perform the opera from scratch with an all-black cast in very unusual locations. .

It is right that the music is emphasized. Bizet based his opera on a novel from that time. That novel is no longer read, but the opera ‘Carmen’ is still performed almost daily all over the world. This film also shows that the most moving scenes are created with the most beautiful pieces of music. ‘U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha’ doesn’t really like the story. Of the music and the interpretations, in which especially Pauline Malefane impresses.

For opera connoisseurs, it must be a fun voyage of discovery to see how situations from nineteenth century Spain are translated to present-day South Africa. Strangely enough, there is never any mention of AIDS or drug abuse, but in the original opera the slums of Seville may have been presented a little more romantic than they actually were. Apartheid is mentioned very casually and drug smuggling does occur, but only to give the story a new twist. In short: not a film for someone who wants to know how things go in the townships.

An unmissable film for anyone who has a thing for opera and knows the original ‘Carmen’, and for people who want to get acquainted with the phenomenon of opera. This is your chance. It does take two hours, but then you also know whether it is for you or not. There are certainly melodies in it that you will recognize and appreciate. However, if you find opera an outdated, nineteenth-century narrative form, this film will not convince you otherwise.

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