It is one of the best known and most performed operas in the world. Francesco Rosi made a classic film adaptation (with Julia Migenes and Placido Domingo) and Carlos Saura offered it in flamenco (with Laura del Sol and Antonio Gades). A version on ice (Carmen on Ice), when champions Katarina Witt and Brian Boitano were at the height of their glory, has even been immortalized.

When these productions were released in the 1980s, Benjamin Millepied was growing up in Bordeaux with a mother who, in addition to teaching contemporary dance, was a great cinephile.

Nearly 40 years later, the man who was in turn star dancer at the New York City Ballet, founder in Los Angeles of the L.A. Dance Project and director of the Paris Opera ballet offers a new film adaptation in which Bizet’s Carmen is completely reinvented, both narratively and musically.

“I often thought of Carmen, an opera I grew up with, explains Benjamin Millepied during an interview he gave us by videoconference. However, I quickly realized that it was important to evoke more the essence of the character, his character, rather than falling into a narration relating to the 19th century with the way men looked at women at that time. Even if this opera is very well known and very popular, I found it interesting to give it a more contemporary touch. »

The filmmaker has also called on the American composer Nicholas Britell (Moonlight). The latter created a whole new musical score and new songs. The action no longer takes place in Andalusia, but rather in Mexico and Southern California. In this co-production between Australia and France, the original work is evoked thanks to excerpts sung in French by a choir, directly taken from the libretto written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy for Bizet’s opera.

“It’s a bit like, in a way, the original creators are watching the new version of their work from afar, as a way of integrating them,” says Benjamin Millepied. Having lived in Los Angeles for 10 years, a city I fell in love with and whose diversity I greatly enjoy, it seemed important to me to echo the theme of immigration, given that it This is a reality that concerns me, with which we live daily. Having spent almost 30 years myself in the United States, I have seen how dramatic everything that happens at the border is. It was obvious to me to treat the story of Carmen from this angle. »

Carmen, whose headliners are Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal (recent Oscar finalist thanks to his performance in Aftersun), thus relates the journey of a young Mexican who, after the murder of her mother, had to cross the American border to seek refuge with her best friend (Rossy de Palma). Of course, the characters often express themselves through dance and movement.

Paying homage to his own mother through this free-spirited woman seeking to get rid of the influence of men, Benjamin Millepied also peppers his feature film with cinematographic references, acquired from childhood thanks to the woman who took him to see We finish horses (Sydney Pollack) rather than Disney cartoons.

“The first movie I saw in the cinema was The Music Room, by Satyajit Ray,” he recalls. I had been completely captivated by the intensity and the rhythm of an incredible sequence, where a woman hypnotizes the men thanks to the dance. I was inspired by it for a scene in which Zhyla [Carmen’s mother] uses a Romani gypsy rhythm, the Romanies coming from India [the country of Satyajit Ray]. »

After a glorious career as a dancer, it is only natural that Benjamin Millepied can now finally satisfy his passion for cinema. Still vividly remembering a showing of Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock) in that huge, single-screen theater that was the Ziegfeld when he had just arrived in New York to study dance there, he now watches today the works of great filmmakers he admires to study their work and analyze their productions. And of the many adaptations of Carmen already in existence, which one does he prefer?

“I really like Carlos Saura’s,” he said without hesitation. The dance scenes are beautifully filmed and there is music by Paco de Lucia. That said, the gaze remains that of a man on a woman who does not express herself much, but the film is brilliant on an artistic level. I may even have been unconsciously inspired by it for mine. »