Francesco Rosi, whose best films have been unadorned realistic dramas with socio-political topicality, hasn’t even tried to stylize the frilled folklore of Bizet’s opera on the screen. Instead we get neo-realistic opera. He might have made a credible straight dramatic picture of Prosper Merimee’s source novella, but his filmed opera is a lumbering cultural mammoth, overblown and graceless.
Dramatically the film is feeble. Julia Migenes-Johnson is high-spirited and alluring in the title role, but Rosi finally insists more on her humane qualities than her demoniac sense of fatalism. But she is a plum next to Placido Domingo’s Don Jose, which flirts with disaster. A beautiful voice, but a uniformed lump in front of the cameras. Ruggero Raimondi is a chilly Escamillo, but he at least has credible bearing and photogenic line. Faith Esham’s Michaela is limpid and touching.
Viewers who dread bullfighting are advised to come five minutes late.