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.
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.
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.
• 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 (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.