The Reel Review


When her brother, the priest in a tiny village in 1980s Malta, dies, Carmen’s decades-long job as his unpaid, live-in housekeeper is suddenly terminated by the Catholic church. Totally alone and abandoned, a despondent Carmen must figure out a new life, in this dramedy starring Natascha McElhone.

Natascha McElhone in Carmen

McElhone (Solaris) gives a career-defining performance as the unlikely hero finding her mojo in middle age. Guided by a dove that seems to frequently and randomly appear at just the right time, a surprisingly wily Carmen ends up pretending to be the village’s new priest when he’s a no show, secretly receiving confessionals from the town’s unsuspecting women, and collecting money from the nearby donation box to survive. Carmen’s transformation into a self-confident beauty is an impressive one.

Steven Love and Natascha McElhome in Carmen

While the story is based more in fantasy than anything resembling reality and has a couple of unnecessary, throwaway scenes, it is still great fun to see unfold. Set to the arid, sun-drenched beauty of the Maltese countryside, writer/director Valerie Buhagiar crafts a sweet, feel-good tale about the blissfully liberating feeling of being able to follow your passion.


Filmmaker Valerie Buhagiar

• Writer/director Valerie Buhagiar dedicated her film to her 95-year-old Aunt Rita whose own life was squashed by the suffocating Maltese tradition of the family’s eldest daughter becoming the housekeeper for brothers who become priests.

Natascha McElhone with her three children during an October 2016 visit to The White House.

• Natascha McElhone (The Crown, Californication, The Truman Show) became a widow in 2008 after her husband died suddenly from a heart condition while she was pregnant with their third child. She later published “After You,” a diary she kept chronicling her life in the year after his death.

• Although set in Malta, much of Carmen also was filmed on the neighboring, much less developed island of Gozo.


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