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Kino on Video presents
Karmen Ge• (2001)

"You're alone. Too alone. Too free. You worry me. The wind pushes a leaf into a hole, but it doesn't push it out."
- Ma Penda (Djeynaba Niang)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: March 09, 2005

Stars: Dje•naba Diop Ga•, Magaye Niang, Stˇphanie Biddle, El Hadji Ndiaye
Other Stars: Thierno Ndiaye Dos, Djeynaba Niang, A•ssatou Diop
Director: Joseph Ga• Ramaka

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexuality, suicide)
Run Time: 01h:22m:15s
Release Date: February 22, 2005
UPC: 738329039226
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB- C

DVD Review

The supplemental materials suggest that this film would make a good introduction to modern African cinema. That's probably very true, since it not only is based on a familiar story, but it has a very strong lead and plenty of exploitation elements to keep this picture out of Senegal from being an exercise in highbrow filmmaking. It's also quite attractive visually and aurally.

Karmen Geï (Djeïnaba Diop Gaï) is an inmate of a woman's prison. She is beloved by the prison governor, Angelique (Stéphanie Biddle) but prison is still prison and she makes her escape at the first opportunity. When she's caught by soldier Lamine Diop (Magaye Niang), she immediately seduces him and begins a torrid love affair that causes him to abandon his career, Simultaneously, Karmen is beloved by the griot, or praise singer Massigi (Senegalese pop star El Hadji Ndiaye). As in the Prosper Merimee story and the Bizet opera, this all can only end badly for all concerned.

Although it's described as a musical, there's not quite as much singing as one might expect in a Hollywood musical, but the songs are almost always placed contextually, and in few cases is there an inexplicable burst of song. In any event, there is plenty of music and dancing in the African mode. Those who favor production numbers will find quite a lot to like here. Just don't expect Bizet's music to make an appearance.

The film, the first feature by director Joseph Gaï Ramaka, works extraordinarily well mostly through the power of the portrayal of the lead character. Djeïnaba Diop Gaï is incredibly striking, not just because she's beautiful, but she's practically an Amazon, towering nearly a head over most of the rest of the cast. She evokes a desire for freedom, particularly sexual freedom, as she dances with abandon. Significantly, she's almost always seen with her legs spread wide apart, as if inviting one and all within. Her route to freedom is both metaphorically and literally linked to her sexuality, and when she is loved she finds it oppressive and unwelcome. At the same time, she has a fearful fascination with death and is seeing harbingers of it everywhere. Frequently clad in eye-popping red, the steaminess of her portrayal of Karmen is definitely memorable.

The colors are important to the visual package, with Massigi first seen in a cool blue, changing to a reddish wardrobe after spending the night with Karmen. Lamine's innocence is reflected in his white garb, changing to darker colors and black as he falls under Karmen's spell, while the drab browns and greys of Angelique's prison outfit make her love feel both sad and just too prosaic for Karmen. The pacing is quite brisk, with the hour and 22 minutes going by very quickly. One could do much worse for a first look at African cinema.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 transfer is surprisingly enough not anamorphic, even though it's a very recent film. The transfer is a bit on the dark side, making many of the details on Djeļnaba Diop Gaļ vanish into the dark blackness of her skin, with the surely unintended result that she often looks like a caricature. This transfer benefits from having the brightness increased on your set. Color is excellent and frequently the detail and texture are surprisingly good for a nonanamorphic transfer. There's little artifacting and only modest aliasing.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French and Wolofno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 audio track is quite clean and vivid. There's not much surround detail, with the singing and the solo instruments pretty firmly fixed in the center channel. It sounds fine but it's not enveloping.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: The principal extra is a lengthy (26m:51s) discussion with Dr. Joanna Gabski, professor of African Visual Culture at Denison University. She not only sets the stage for the film by discussing the political tradition of African filmmaking, but she talks about the meanings of various elements adapted and explains a number of obscure references. She also touches on the surprising reason why the film was banned in its native Senegal. It's quite an enjoyable talk, even if Gabski looks young enough to be a student rather than a professor. The only other extra is a set of 15 color stills from the film. The subtitles are burned in, but at least are within the 16:9 frame allowing widescreen set owners to zoom the picture.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

The free-spirited Gypsy heroine gets a West African makeover in this intriguing musical version. The transfer's not bad, even if it is nonanamorphic, and the documentary is quite good.


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