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U-CARMEN eKHAYELITSHA

Director: MARK DORNFORD-MAY

SOUTH AFRICA • 2005 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 120 MIN.


The sign says ‘Welcome to Seville’, but this isn’t the postcard Spain embodied in Francesco Rosi’s flamboyant screen version of the Bizet opera, or even Carlos Saura’s passionate flamenco reading. Instead, we’re in the township of Khayelitsha outside Cape Town, where the same drama of jealousy and desire is about to unfold, sung on the shantytown streets to Bizet’s wonderful tune-filled score, but in Xhosa (one of post-apartheid South Africa’s eleven official languages) by an energetic company of local performers. Theatre group Dimpho Di Kopane had already toured their stage ‘Carmen’ across the world, and that vibrant sense of ensemble is one of the strongest suits in this screen transfer, which is fluidly handled by director Mark Dornford-May and took the Golden Bear at Berlin last year.

The film certainly has fun fitting Bizet’s plot into its new surroundings, working in a TV appearance for visiting star baritone Zweilungile ‘Zorro’ Sidloyi in full toreador gear, a visit to the soothsayer, and a bull sacrificed in a traditional tribal ceremony. The simmering love triangle at the story’s core is of course universal, and is played to the hilt by a cast eager to prove their take on the material is as culturally valid as the revivals forever present on the world’s operatic stages. True, the pickiest aficionados may cavil at the voices’ occasional scuffed edges, but the spirit’s the thing here, and in Pauline Malefane there’s certainly a Carmen equal to the role, a full-figured flashing-eyed firebrand and all-round enchantress.—Trevor Johnston.

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