From Heterotopia to Metatopia

Powrie, P. (2019). ‘From Heterotopia to Metatopia: Staging death in Carmen’, in Classical French Literature on Screen, edited by Homer B. Pettey and R. Barton Palmer. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

There have been some eighty film adaptations of the Carmen story since 1895 (excluding over thirty TV films), based either on Prosper Mérimée’s novella (1845) or on Georges Bizet’s opera (1875), or on a combination of both. It is one of the most adapted stories in cinema history, and the most adapted classical literature in French cinema. Those adaptations range across national cinemas: the USA is the most prominent (27), followed by France (10), Spain (9), UK (8), Italy (6), Germany (4), Brazil (2), Russia (2), and there are Argentinian, Austrian, Czech, Dutch, Mexican, Senegalese, Slovenian, South African, Swedish, and Venezuelan versions. The Carmen story has unsurprisingly then been the focus of considerable academic attention. In this chapter I will focus on the climax of the story, the ritualistic murder of the threatening femme fatale represented by Carmen in her irreducible difference. In most cases, Carmen’s death takes place either in the wild countryside of Mérimée’s novella, or in the urbanized bullring of Bizet’s opera. A majority of film versions construct the death scene as a ritual performance where the location is an enclosed and generally non-realist stage, especially when the rest of the film has been relatively realist in its use of locations. Using Foucault’s theory of heterotopia as ‘other’ contested place, I argue that the reason for this staging is to provide a segregated ritual space which retrospectively legitimizes the narrative as a performance of excessive sexualities, at the same time as, paradoxically, it contains that excess by staging it as a performance.

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