. Musical drama. 2002
. Not rated. 82 minutes
. Directed and written by Joseph Gai Ramaka
. Starring Djeinaba Diop Gai, Magaye Niang, Stephanie Biddle,Thierno Ndiaye Dos, Djeynaba Niang and El Hadji N'diaye.
. In French and Wolof with English subtitles.
Linked in the public consciousness to composer Georges Bizet, "Carmen" is probably the most famous opera in the world. With "Karmen Gei," director Joseph Gai Ramaka has set the story in his native Senegal, replaced the music and choreography with African beats and moves, and created a bisexual Carmen who may be the most magnetic, most beautiful and bravest Carmen ever to grace a stage or film set.
Actress Djeinaba Diop Gai pulsates with joie de vivre as the rebellious woman who seduces the warden of her prison, engineers the rescue of a jailed suitor, publicly belittles Senegal's police corps and leads an idealistic gang of smugglers. (Her character is named Karmen, not Carmen, perhaps to differentiate her from all the previous incarnations of this operatic figure.)
Gai's Karmen has an infectious sense of humor, which she uses to diffuse the men who are incredulous that such a striking woman can overpower them. The film's levity (some of the scenes are almost campy) and playful, spirited musical score make this version of "Carmen" even more unusual. American jazz saxophonist David Murray composed the songs, which feature some of Senegal's great performers, including singer El Hadji N'diaye, who also has a role in the film.
The movie is not without its flaws, among them Gai's singing voice, which doesn't have the pitch or power of, say, N'diaye's. But there is so much working for "Karmen Gei" -- including the scenes of Goree Island, where millions of slaves were first taken centuries ago; the colorful African fabrics that are worn by the women prisoners; and the portrayal of Karmen Gei as a kind of superhero to the downtrodden -- that the film becomes an overwhelming pleasure, and you find yourself rooting for Gai's character to avoid the fate that has befallen every other Carmen before her.
This film contains violence, nudity and sex scenes.
Jonathan Curiel http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/08/02/DD242928.DTL#karmen