Starring: Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni and Lungelwa Blou
Tartan DVD
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3646
Certificate: 15
Available 21 July 2006

Carmen is a feisty, vibrant woman who works in a cigarette factory. Her philosophy of life is that if you don't want her she's yours, and if you do want her then you had better beware. Carmen makes good on this love them and leave them way of living when she captivates a police sergeant Jongikhaya in an effort to avoid prison for her attack on a fellow factory worker. Because of Carmen, Jongikhaya falls from grace and gets demoted, whereupon she drags him into a smuggling scheme that can only end in tragedy. Look into Carmen's eyes and realise that this way love and madness lies...

U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, directed by Mark Domford-May, is a new South African opera based on the 19th Century Carmen by Georges Bizet. The film was shot in the township of Khayelitsha not far from Cape Town and home to half a million people. The film is spoken and sung in Xhosa, which is one of South Africa's eleven official languages. The film won the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and was selected as an entry at the Cannes Film Festival.

Set in a township it was difficult to see how they were going to transfer the story from Seville, especially as one of the main characters is a bull fighter, and Toreador is one of the most famous songs from the opera. This issue was nicely side stepped by turning the character from a bull fighter to a singer, thus allowing him to be seen on the television, presumably appearing in Carmen dressed up singing the Toreador song, though it's cut very short.

The backdrop to the story, the township, has much in common with the poorer quarters of Seville, where the original was set. One of the nice things about this production was the inclusion of a sepia tinted back story for the police sergeant, absent in the original; it goes a long way to explaining his motivation and dispels the problem of him being a mummy's boy, a problem from which the original suffered.

Carmen is both a beautiful and scandalous opera, an effect it has had from its very first production, dealing as it does with the less savoury elements of society, their shattered dreams, dreams which sometimes end in murder. Pauline Malefane, as Carmen, is captivating; she exudes both toughness and vulnerability at the same time. You can see why the good Christian sergeant finds it difficult to resist her siren call. Andile Tshoni's Jongikhaya is no saint though, being his brother's killer he is more than aware that he is a weak willed man - the knowledge of which disgusts even him, when he does find it in himself to act it is in a most unfortunate and bloody manner.

Special note should be given to the sound reproduction on the disc which is excellent; regardless where the action is taking place the mix is always crystal clear. The audio is presented in 'don't even think about it' stereo, an 'ok if you have nothing else' 5.1 and a 'turn it up and blow the neighbours away' DTS mix. English subtitles are available throughout which is more than you'd get watching a production on a stage. The singing is great and you should use the best reproduction that your equipment can provide.

The disc comes with a making of documentary which, whilst a tad short at a little less than eight minutes, is a cut above the average. The original theatrical trailer is here as well as interviews with the director and Pauline Malefane.

If this is the present state of South African film making then all I can say is let's see more.

Charles Packer

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