April 2002
Karmen Gel :

Reviewed by Wilson Morales

Karmen Gel

Distributor: California Newsreel
Director: Joseph Gai Ramaka
Screenwriter: Joseph Gai Ramaka
Producer: Richard Sadler
Cinematographer: Bertrand Chatry
Cast: Djeinaba Diop Gai, Magaye Niang, Stephanie Biddle, Thierno Ndiaye Dos
Language: In French and Wolof with subtitles
Running Time:84 min

If there were anything or anyone that could challenge Shakespeare for the most productions of one of his stories, it would be Bizet’s Carmen. There have been 51 film versions of this story, including Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones. The latter is the one most Americans are familiar with. Now comes another version, but from another country and with a new spin. Coming to the United States is the first African version of “Carmen” as well as the first African film musical ever produced. Although filmed with some convoluted plots, “Karmen Gel” is filled with enough songs and dance to add a vibrant look to the story.

As the story unfolds in a woman’s prison in Dakar, Senegal, Karmen uses her looseness, freedom and beauty to seduce the female warden Angelique (Biddle) and make her escape. The warden is truly in love with Karmen, yet Karmen takes oblivious to it. Once freed, Karmen makes her to way to break up the wedding of a colonel, who’s also enchanted by her. Lamine (Dos), the Colonel, is sent to capture but loses focus as Karmen’s “spell” leaves him unable to do his job. Always hiding out and protected by her family, Karmen dances and sings as she enjoys her free life. “Spells” are hard to break and being seductive to all that come in contact with her leads to a tragic end for some.

Directed with rhythm and energy, Karmen Gel offers a new twist to the story as Director Ramaka has modernized the story by making the lead bisexual. It the first of all versions to offer such a bold move and it works. The song and dance scenes are superb, and colorful as the choreography illustrates the African way of dancing. Djeinaba Diop Gai is amazing as Karmen. She brings a new level of exoticism not match by the other versions. Her fiery attitude and performance is a revelation that must be commended. “Karmen Gel” is a short enjoyable treat modernized to accustom to today’s audiences.

KARMEN GEL will have a two-week engagement, April 10-23, at Film Forum, West Houston Street in New York City.


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