Karmen Geï

By Joseph Gaye Ramaka (Senegal)

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Mérimée’s character, who became a great opera classic with Bizet, is a film classic too with no less than 52 film versions. Joseph Gaye Ramaka adopts the Carmen myth in his first feature. In it, Karmen displays her uncompromising charm from present-day Gorée to Dakar. Actress Jeïnaba Diop Gaï’s luxuriant beauty and a formidably insolent feel for dance constitute her contemporary arms. Right from the opening scene, her vibrating body invades the screen. Like the toreador, she challenges as much as she dances, the rhythm her arena. Her carnal force triumphs publicly over her woman jailer and lover, just as it floors her next rival.
The director’s choice of songs is judicious. Love and other « children of bohemia » are declined in typically Wolof accents and airs, and the participants’ musical range excels, reinforcing the intrigue: Doudou N’Diaye Rose’s sabar drummers, Julien Jouga’s choir, El Hadj Ndiaye’s singing of the romance, or Yandé Coudou Sène and her prophetic voice. But the whole film is also underscored by saxophonist David Murray’s completely different music. Gaye Ramaka thereby develops a jazz fibre that marks his vision of the world. One senses a deep-down, even unconscious wound in the heroine. And this jazz spirit seems to be linked to the attraction of the death-bringing ocean. Karmen’s former lesbian lover commits suicide in the sea. Seen from the Deux-mamelles lighthouse or the smugglers’ launch, the town looks a bit like Manhattan. But the colonial ruins are marked by the displacement of human beings out to sea. One thing is certain: Karmen’s fate goes beyond her burial, defying life and man-made laws.
The orchestrated combination of several cinematographic registers leaves the spectator wondering about the director’s intention. The musical sequences, which are ultimately rather few and far between, and the dialogues, which jump from French to Wolof without any real rooting in Senegalese reality, destabilize expectations. At times powerful, the intrigue’s role ultimately seems to be just a pretext to say something else, to let a feeling emanate. This is so much the case that when the plot reaches its climax, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a diversion… A both rich and unequal film, which in any event does not leave you indifferent: to be judged by yourself.

2001, Euripide Productions, Zagarianka, Les Ateliers de l’Arche and Mataranak Inc., 35 mm colour, distrib. Euridipe Distribution (00 33 1 53 30 06 47).///Article N° : 5597

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