Award-winning film Carmen finally comes home to Malta

Pauline Fenech and Rachel Fabri talk about their experience on the set of Carmen, written and directed by Maltese-Canadian director Valerie Buhagiar and starring Hollywood legend Natascha McElhone

Natascha McElhone in Carmen
Natascha McElhone in Carmen

Shot entirely in Malta and Gozo in 2019, Carmen is a film inspired by the life of Maltese-Canadian writer/director Valerie Buhagiar’s aunt and is set in the 1980s.

It tells the story of Carmen, a spinster pushing 50 who has spent her entire adult life caring for her brother, the priest at the local church. In this uplifting film, the protagonist takes control of her own life, inspiring a whole village in the process.

One of those who are most influenced by Carmen is Giovanna,  a lovable, if nosey, village gossip. “Giovanna makes it her business to know everybody’s secrets, but the thing is, she has a few secrets of her own and she isn’t happy with her situation in life,” said Pauline Fenech, who plays the role. “She has resigned herself to existing in the life she has been given, but her encounter with Carmen gives her the courage she needs to take back control of her own life.”

Much like Giovanna and the other women in the village, Rena, played by Rachel Fabri, feels trapped by a society that will not allow her to have dreams and aspirations.

“All she knows is this small town, this little church, these townspeople,” Fabri explained. “She wishes she could break away and follow her dreams, but she doesn’t believe she can. I guess she has that in common with Carmen.”

Things start changing, both for the main protagonist and for the women of her village, when Carmen’s older brother passes away and she is left homeless and without any prospects by the same Church she has dedicated her life to. A series of events leads to Carmen reclaiming her freedom and making up for lost time.

“There is such beauty in the strength and positivity that Carmen shows daily in enduring the constraints imposed on her by society. She has a certain grace about her,” Fabri shared.

“I suspect that, at that time, many women felt trapped just like her but had to simply endure not being able to follow their dreams - some handled it with grace, some with indifference, and others who felt too stifled may have fled or become outcasts. One woman I know personally confessed that she dreamt of becoming a professional ballerina, but she was not allowed to attend ballet lessons. At the time she had just felt she had no choice in the matter and simply had to block it out.”

Carmen has already won three awards in Canada, including Best Feature at the Canadian Film Fest. It has been highly praised by critics, especially for its evocative depiction of life on a Mediterranean island like Malta – with the New York Times describing the film as “delightful” and saying “the Maltese countryside sparkles in the sunlight”. Natascha McElhone’s portrayal of the main protagonist has also earned glowing reviews.  The Hollywood star is known for her roles in The Truman Show, Designated Survivor and Californication among others. “Despite being a Hollywood actor, she is the most down to earth person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, which shows what a woman of substance she is,” Fenech recalled. “It was a wonderful experience working with her.”

The film tackles some important topics with grace and humour and shines a light on the harsh realities women lived with up until recently. “It’s a great story told in a very simple way, but there is a depth to it which is not immediately obvious,” Fenech added.

“I believe that a number of people, or should I say women, will identify with the characters. More importantly, Carmen is a story of hope and courage, and I hope it will inspire people to take control of their own destiny.”

Carmen is currently having its first theatrical run in the Maltese Islands at the Citadel Cinema in Gozo. Visit for more information and tickets. EDEN Cinemas will be holding a premiere on 30 September, and the film’s release will follow on Wednesday 5 October. For information about tickets to the premiere and the film’s run visit