Karmen Gei

Set in modern-day Dakar, Senegal, this vibrant, richly musical film reworks Prosper Mérimée's perennially potent story of a charismatic woman whose influence destroys the men who flock to her. Incarcerated in Kumba Castle, a women's prison, Karmen (Djeïnaba Diop Gaï) charms her way into the bed of straight-laced warden Angelique (Stéphanie Biddle) with...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Set in modern-day Dakar, Senegal, this vibrant, richly musical film reworks Prosper Mérimée's perennially potent story of a charismatic woman whose influence destroys the men who flock to her. Incarcerated in Kumba Castle, a women's prison, Karmen (Djeïnaba Diop Gaï) charms her way into the bed of straight-laced warden Angelique (Stéphanie Biddle) with her sensual dancing, then escapes while Angelique is asleep. Incapable of not speaking her mind, Karmen quickly gets herself arrested again by peppering her performance at the wedding of Colonel Lamine Diop (Magaye Niang) with revolutionary insults. As Lamine hustles Karmen off to jail, she works her earthy mojo on him and escapes; his failure to lock her up lands Lamine behind bars in Karmen's stead. Undaunted, Karmen rallies a group of shady friends and breaks Lamine out of prison. Since he can't go back to his old life — which includes his virtuous but very angry fiancée, Marie-Madeleine (Patricia Gomis) — Karmen offers him a place in her smuggling operation. Her criminal confederates are dubious about accepting a policeman into their ranks, but as always, Karmen's will prevails. As they await a new shipment of illicit goods, she returns to her mother, the equally flamboyant Ma Penda (Djeynaba Niang), who runs a bustling bar-restaurant. To Lamine's dismay, they have no sooner settled into one of the rooms upstairs than Karmen starts flirting with singer Massigi (El Hadji N'diaye), a regular at Ma Penda's place. Despite her many romantic conquests, the only man who seems to truly understand Karmen is Old Samba (Thierno Ndiaye Dos), a lighthouse keeper in cahoots with the smugglers' gang. As Lamine's jealousy grows, Karmen's carnal attentions wander and the arrival of the new shipment draws near, the scene is set for betrayal and tragedy. This is the first musical film ever made in Africa, and director Joseph Gaï Ramaka's sense of storytelling is a little shaky; the narrative lurches from scene to scene and the relationships between characters are often less than clear. But since Mérimée's story is so familiar, you have a pretty good idea of where things are headed even when you're not entirely sure what's going on. And the production design, score and choreography are simply intoxicating, ablaze with vivid colors, propulsive rhythms and seductive sounds that range from Afro-pop to indigenous Senegalese music. Diop Gaï's performance is equally beguiling: She's both bold and mysterious, a femme fatale bursting with life. (In Wolof and French, with subtitles)

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Set in modern-day Dakar, Senegal, this vibrant, richly musical film reworks Prosper Mérimée's perennially potent story of a charismatic woman whose influence destroys the men who flock to her. Incarcerated in Kumba Castle, a women's prison, Karmen (Djeïnab… (more)

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