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Carmen, Baby
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by The Ultimate Dancing Machine

"Stupid title, but give it a chance"
3 stars

A fairly early film from Radley Metzger, made prior to his reinvention in the mid '70s as the triple-X porno auteur par excellance, "Carmen, Baby" is a slightly dated piece of '60s erotica--it's hard to find one that isn't--but it holds up today much better than most films of its type. No, I don't mean "Stop! My Ass is on Fire!"

Shot in Germany, Carmen, Baby (somehow I want to add an exclamation point to the title) has to do with the doomed passion of a policeman for a saucy prostitute (Uta Levka), which naturally turns into a tangle of jealousy, murder, and so on.

This happens to be roughly the umpteenth film adaptation of the Prosper Merimee novel (which spawned the Bizet opera). I am not familiar with the source work, but it's a safe bet that cunnilingus (off-screen) and discotheques didn't figure in the original; there is also an oddly balletic knife fight that, disorientingly, reminded me of Michael Jackson's video for "Beat It." Luckily, the "modern" touches aren't excessive, and Metzger's signature style--cool, classy, distant, with a distinctively European sensibility--keeps matters under control. The film never descends into camp, though it certainly had the potential for massive silliness. (Metzger would achieve massive silliness a few years later with 1970's The Lickerish Quartet, but that is another review for another day.)

In point of fact, Metzger's studied "elegance" nearly drains the life out of the film even as one admires the craftmanship; it's just a little too cold and impersonal, a problem exacerbated by the obviously dubbed dialogue. Even when Metzger strains for perverse effect--one love scene is shot through an arrangement of colored drinking glasses--it never comes to life like it should.

Still, the film does attain something like tragic proportions as it nears its conclusion. Uta Levka makes for a pretty good Carmen; she's both sassy and seductive, and, as usual in Metzger's movies, not too bad on the eyes.

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originally posted: 03/18/02 14:59:37
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