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Shuswap Film Society: Woman finds new start in film Carmen

Cinemaphile by Joanne Sargent
Canadian Writer/Director Valerie Buhagiar’s film Carmen plays the Salmar Classic at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, 2023. (Contributed)

“I had a terrible life, no one cared about me,” said Canadian Writer/Director Valerie Buhagiar’s 95-year-old Aunt Teresa, tearily describing her lot as the eldest sister of a priest in Malta, forced into servitude to her brother.

Buhagiar wanted to tell her aunt’s story, but made the decision to focus less on the spirit-sucking tradition and instead on a potential positive outcome.

In Buhagiar’s movie, all joyless Carmen, now in her 50s, has known in her life is being a lowly handmaid to her demanding priest brother. When her brother dies, she is evicted by the diocese to make way for the new priest and his caretaker sister. With no family, no money, no friends and no home, Carmen wanders the streets, a lost soul.

Still with keys to the church, she hides out in the confession booth. Mistaken for the new priest, she starts hearing confession from parishioners who prefer her unorthodox and kindly advice to her brother’s old-fashioned penance. Church donations soar and Carmen, with a new sense of power, repurposes the funds.

Angling for more cash, she finds her way to Valetta, the island’s capital, and interests a young pawnbroker in her items “borrowed” from the church. A brief flirtation ensues but their idyllic Vespa ride into the sunset is short-lived. With flashbacks to her ill-fated first love and a few twists and turns, the movie begs the question: can a woman stifled for decades emerge triumphant?

Featuring the beautiful scenery of Malta, Buhagiar’s birthplace, Carmen plays at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 8 at the Classic.

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