PFS Spring Fest: Carmen and The Eight Mountains

PFS Spring Fest: Carmen and The Eight Mountains

Carmen (dir. – Benjamin Millepied)

It’s hardly a meet-cute when Carmen (Melissa Barrera) and Aidan (Paul Mescal) cross paths at the southwest American border. The former is a victim of cartel violence seeking safety in the US. The latter is an ex-military man with a heart of gold, who takes a position in a border patrol militia in order to pay his bills. When his cohorts, who seem more interested in sport hunting than security, take their power fetish to the extreme, Carmen and Aida are now on the run.

Billed as a “reimagining” of the classic opera, Carmen maintains an operatic tone, but is fueled by original music and hypnotic dance numbers, both of which span multiple genres and styles. It’s easy to get lost in the sensory texture of the film, which is very much by design. The plot is, as these things go, pretty straightforward (as an uncultured swine, I cannot comment on how it relates to the source material), but Carmen is much more interested in telling its story through cinema rather than script. This isn’t to say the script is lacking, however. In fact, it’s remarkable the degree to which the dialogue and often surreal visuals interplay with one another. One can only guess what a single page would look like to an outsider.

All of this is driven home by fluid direction and some of the best cinematography of recent memory. The depth of field from any one shot is jaw-dropping, and never is it employed as simple visual design. Details in the distance inform the image as much as the action in the foreground, while the deep field creates an air of lukewarm embrace. We simultaneously feel the sizzling romance between our leads while also cowering under the oppressiveness of the chase. The world is gigantic, but here it only serves to remind the viewer of the invisible walls placed upon Carmen and Aidan.

Mescal is, unsurprisingly, fantastic. Somehow simultaneously a fresh, unmarred face and a collection of hard-earned scars. Barrera is a performer who, at least in regards to her American filmography, is mistakenly accused of being just a pretty face. Doubters need only watch any five minute stretch of Carmen to be disabused of such notions. Tasked with dancing, singing, and evoking powerful emotions using just her face, Barrera puts everything on the line in creating her character. It’s such a remarkable performance that even Almodóvar fav, Rossy de Palma, here playing a passionate and talented nightclub owner/dancer, fails to upstage. This is not for lack of trying — de Palma is undeniably striking, and her performance is downright brilliant. Her every move conjures images of flowing lava.

Ultimately, Carmen is a hard movie to categorize. It’s experimental, but in an accessible way. Even in the rare (but understandable) case when the story might not resonate with the viewer, the craft is sure to electrify.

 

The Eight Mountains (dir. – Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch)

How to describe The Eight Mountains? It’s based on a book. It’s nearly two-and-a-half hours long. It’s such a big, all encompassing story that it’s hard to explain the plot without sounding overly wordy or woefully contrite. It’s absolutely gorgeous in every moment. It’s beautifully performed. It’s flawlessly scored/soundtracked. It’s the type of big, meaty movie that, despite heaps of melancholy and near universal relatability, is a joy to watch. Another hour could be spent in the world of The Eight Mountains without it feeling even a second longer. In summation, it’s a masterpiece.

To put it as simply as possible, the story follows the entire friendship of Pietro and Bruno, two individuals from very different backgrounds. Pietro is a city kid whose family visits the mountains every summer. Bruno is a born and bred mountain denizen. The two are the only children in the area, and thus a seasonal friendship blossoms, which, over the course of the film, develops into a lifelong bond.

Themes of friendship, boyhood, manhood, fatherhood, family, self-identity, etc. It’s an entire life’s worth of experiences and lessons packed into a single film, and it is nothing short of remarkable. Vandermeersch and van Groeningen prove themselves masters of capturing the vibe of a location and tying it to whatever is happening at the moment. One can almost smell the air in each and every setting. The outdoorsy among viewers will surely be gobsmacked by the natural scenery, while the cinephiles will squeal in approval of the crisp cinematography.

The adult versions of Pietro and Bruno (Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi, respectively) have a real world chemistry that suits the material to perfection. Their bond is alight with love, but filled with the turbulence that comes with human friendships. The two wear their own identities, as well as their shared identity with verisimilitude that exhibits both platonic pride and the type of disappointment that only true friends can express to one another.

I left The Eight Mountains wanting to disappear into the wilderness…and maybe call a few of my friends first.

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