‘Carmen’: A Maltese Film That Pays Homage to an Age-Old Tradition

Sandra Bertrand


When we go to the movies, we want to be transported, to put our lives on hold for a few special moments and travel from the mundane to the marvelous.  In Carmen, writer-director Valerie Buhagiar proves she has the talent to take us there.


Buhagiar’s first achievement was finding her Carmen. Natascha McElhone (filmgoers may remember her from The Truman Show and Solaris) has matured into a classic beauty, whose face registers in a heartbeat every emotion from anguish to ecstasy. Our director’s second victory was placing her heroine against a Maltese landscape. Both arid and mysterious, with the brooding walled alleyways of the Mdina and the timeless blue of the Mediterranean, it gives a director all she could ask for. When Carmen’s priest brother dies, she is put out on the streets by the sister (Michela Farrugia) of a new replacement who has yet to show his face on the island. What will become of her?


This Carmen is a wily survivor and through a series of plot contrivances—and the aid of a saintly dove—she finds her way back into the rectory. Buhagiar can be forgiven for adding a bit of magic realism to shore up the storyline, or maybe it’s just God’s intervention. Take your pick.



While the cathedral is closed for masses until further notice, the parishioners are welcome to confess. Concealing herself in the confessional, with “a voice like the Virgin Mary,” Carmen counsels the abused and forlorn women of the town. Even a young girl with the voice of an angel is advised to take money from the collection box and escape to Rome where her talent will be recognized.


Angling for more funds, the intrepid Carmen finds her way to Valetta, the island’s capital. With church reliquaries in tow, she interests a charming young pawnbroker (Steven Love) in her stash. A brief flirtation ensues but being an older woman after all, their idyllic Vespa ride into the sunset is short-lived. With more twists and turns to the plot, including flashbacks to her ill-fated first love, will our heroine prevail? 




No giveaways from this reviewer. There is enough radiance in McElhone’s performance, and majesty in Malta’s historic soil with Buhagiar’s faultless eye, to keep Buhagiar’s audience clamoring for more from this director.


Buhagiar is an award-winning Canadian director. Carmen, her third feature length-film, is inspired by true events. In an old Maltese tradition, when a man becomes a priest, his eldest sister is forced, without education, a family of her own or salary, to become his helpmate. This film is dedicated to her 95-year-old aunt whose own life was squashed by this suffocating tradition.


CARMEN will be released in the US Theatrically in major cities and on VOD in the U.S. and Canada on September 23.


Author Bio:          

Sandra Bertrand is Highbrow Magazine’s chief art critic.


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