Review: ‘Carmen’s Revenge’

Supposedly based on helmer Suzanne Osten and scenarist Nils Gredeby's childhood experiences, "Carmen's Revenge" is a curious, unpleasant drama awkwardly pitched somewhere between kid and adult audiences. It's a disappointment from Osten, whose "Speak Up! It's So Dark" was in strikingly better control of its themes and perspectives.

Supposedly based on helmer Suzanne Osten and scenarist Nils Gredeby’s childhood experiences, “Carmen’s Revenge” is a curious, unpleasant drama awkwardly pitched somewhere between kid and adult audiences. It’s a disappointment from Osten, whose “Speak Up! It’s So Dark” was in strikingly better control of its themes and perspectives.

Twelve-year-old Carmen’s summer looks dismal. Nearly everyone has left her suburban Swedish town to vacation elsewhere; her mother is mentally unstable, an adult sister is working far away; only two younger kids, Kersti and Anders, are available as playmates. Far worse problems, however, are introduced by the return of Bengan, a 20-ish layabout who (along with a similarly thuggish friend, though latter soon vanishes sans explanation) has no qualms about tormenting defenseless children for sport.

After some preliminary rough handling, the kids spend a whole week fearfully indoors. When they venture out at last, sun-allergic young Kersti is tied to a swing set and suffers significant burns; Bengan muscles his way into Carmen’s flat, where their interaction disturbingly edges close to rape.

At last the three kids successfully plot a “revenge,” though this finale doesn’t really turn the trick of alleviating viewer queasiness about their future safety. Osten takes an odd path with the material there are fanciful aspects that suggest a sort of Brothers Grimm, monster-vanquishing approach intended for younger viewers, but they’re overwhelmed by a somber, sometimes gratuitously arty atmosphere. More troubling is the portrayal of Bengan, whom Simon Norrthon plays as a full-on psycho; no mere school bully, his sadistic “fun” (including hurling a bloodied Anders to the cement from some height) is over-the-line graphic at times.

It doesn’t help, either, that precociously beautiful Emelie Ekenborn, as Carmen, is allowed to suggestively “lead on” her stalker, or that the neglectful parents here (Carmen’s certifiably mad mom, Anders’ vain, uncaring one) are relegated to a few near-farcical appearances. The film raises serious issues about child vulnerability, yet neither explores their consequences realistically nor comes up with a true fairy tale’s reassuring alternative reality. Sum effect is borderline irresponsible, holding limited appeal for both mature and juvenile viewers.

Lensing is smooth, pacing a bit slow, the mood not leavened by the soundtrack’s various classical strains. Performances are solid even when the character conceptions aren’t. “Carmen’s Revenge” is the English-language-market title, not a translation of the Swedish original.

Carmen's Revenge

(SWEDISH)

Production

A Migma presentation of a Migma Film AB and Rock Film AB production. Produced by Anita Oxburgh. Directed by Suzanne Osten. Screenplay, Nils Gredeby.

Crew

Camera (color), Goran Hallberg; editor, Hakan Karlsson; music, Johan Petri; sound (Dolby), Jean Frederic Azelsson. Reviewed at the Lark, Larkspur, Calif., Oct. 1, 1996. (In Mill Valley Film Festival.) Running time: 80 MIN.

With

With: Emelie Ekenborn (Carmen), Lena Klingwall, Erik Gustavssoon, Malin Ek, Simon Norrthon (Bengan), Cilla Thorell, Sylvia Rauan, Lars Hansson, Yvan Auzeli.
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