Set in a quaint village in Malta in the 1980s, “Carmen,” a new film starring Natascha McElhone as a middle-aged woman who finds a new path in life through romance, is part coming-of-age, part travelogue.
McElhone is Carmen, a fifty-year-old woman, loosely based on director Valarie Buhagiar’s own aunt Rita. In her village in Malta, tradition has it that when a man enters the priesthood, his sister comes along as caretaker of the church. Beginning at age sixteen Carmen lives a life of service, thirty-four years of toil, until her brother unexpectedly drops dead.
Free of her obligation to the church, Carmen embraces life. She gets her hair done for the first time, offers very practical and playful advice to the villagers through the confessional, and finds romance with Paulo (Steven Love), a younger man who runs a pawnshop.
As Carmen discovers new ways to move forward with joy, we learn about the path that brought her to this stage of her life.
“Carmen” is an empathetic and optimistic movie about a second chance at living life to the fullest. McElhone brings a spirit of generosity and warmth to the character’s journey. Carmen’s life is blossoming, but her awakening isn’t easy and McElhone acknowledges her character’s struggle. Everything is new, and while Carmen is on the brink of becoming overwhelmed, this skillful performance also shows us how eager she is to embrace life’s opportunities.
The simple story is enhanced by the lead performance, and cinematographer Diego Guijarro’s gorgeous photography. This small Mediterranean island nation appears locked in time, a modern town rooted in the past, surrounded by travel brochure-ready scenery. It’s pure eye candy and serves as a perfect backdrop to this story of tradition and rebirth.
“Carmen” aims to make you feel better on the way out of the theatre than you did on the way in. It’s an admirable goal, and even if the movie doesn’t reinvent the feel-good-movie wheel, it accomplishes what it sets out to do.