Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Woody Allen reigns in Spain
August 22, 2008
The thing about a Woody Allen film is, whatever else happens, the characters are intriguing to listen to. They tend to be smart, witty, not above epigrams. A few days before seeing Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I viewed his Hannah and Her Sisters again. More than 20 years apart, both with dialogue at perfect pitch. Allen has directed more than 40 movies in about as many years and written all of them himself. Why isnt he more honored? Do we take him for granted?Vicky Cristina Barcelona is typical of a lot of his mid-range work. It involves affluent characters at various levels of sophistication, involved in the arts and the intrigues of love. Theyre conflicted about right and wrong. Theyre undoubtedly low-level neurotics. In addition, they are attractive, amusing, and living lives we might envy in this case, during a summer vacation in Barcelona.Allens discovery of Europe (of London, Paris, Venice, Barcelona) has provided new opportunities for the poet of Manhattan (and Manhattan). In this film we meet two best friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who decide to spend July and August in the Barcelona home of Vickys relatives Judy and Mark (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn). Were briefed by a narrator that Vicky values stable relationships and is engaged to marry Doug (Chris Messina) when she returns. Cristina is more impulsive, more adventurous, not afraid to risk a little turmoil.Vicky, we learn is majoring in Catalan studies, which makes the capital of Catalonia a perfect destination for her. What will you … do with that? Mark asks over lunch. Oh … says Vicky, who clearly has no answer. Maybe teach, or … work for a museum? Her Spanish, it can be observed, could use some work.They all go to an art gallery show, and Cristina wonders who the man in the red shirt is. Judy explains that he is Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), an abstract artist, and there was a scandal over his divorce when he tried to kill his wife, or she tried to kill him … the details are muddled. At midnight in a restaurant (a conventional dinner hour in Barcelona) the two girls see him across the room. He keeps looking at us! Cristina says. Thats because you cant take your eyes off of him, says Vicky. He approaches their table and in quiet, measured tones, offers to fly them in his plane to an interesting city, see the sights and sleep with him. Both of them.Vicky is astonished and offended. Cristina accepts, of course with no guarantees. Juan Antonio has, in his own words, made a polite, frank and straightforward offer. And then the film lingers in the complications of the relationships between these three people before introducing a fourth element: the former wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). The tragedy is she and Juan Antonio are still deeply in love with each other but they cant live together without violence flaring up. A menage a quatre takes shape shaky, but fascinating.Allen is amusing when he applies strict logic to the situation. If everybody knows and accepts what everybody is doing, wheres the harm? Cristina is predisposed to such excitement, and Vickys love for the stable, responsible, absent Doug begins to pale in comparison with this bohemian existence. Judy, the relative, discovers Vickys secret and urges her to go with her heart, not her prudence. Vicky and Cristina have conversations in which they show they are open-minded, but perhaps not very prudent. There are unexpected arrivals and developments.And by now were engrossed in this comedy, which is really a fantasy beginning with Juan Antonio, who is too cool and good to be true. All the time, Allen gives us a tour of the glories of Barcelona, the city of Gaudi and Miro, the excuse being that Juan Antonio is showing the girls the sights. As Hollywood learned long ago, theres nothing like a seductive location to lend interest to whatever is happening in the foreground.More surprises than this I must not describe. It is all fairly harmless, although fraught with dire possibilities. Allen has set out to amuse and divert us and to discover secrets of human nature, but not tragically deep ones. He is a little like Eric Rohmer here. The actors are attractive, the city is magnificent, the love scenes dont get all sweaty, and everybody finishes the summer a little wiser and with a lifetime of memories. What more could you ask?
Vicky Cristina Barcelona The Weinstein Co. presents a film written and directed by Woody Allen. Produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Gareth Wiley. Photographed by Javier Aguirresarobe. Edited by Alisa Lepselter. Running time: 96 minutes. Classified: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving sexuality, and smoking). Rated: Three stars out of four.
Dan ZakThe Washington PostIts the same old opening credits, but the music is new. The murmur of a Spanish guitar replaces the big-band brass and the boom of a symphony that have always heralded Woody Allens comedies and dramas. We open in Barcelona instead of Manhattan and are treated to the eroticism of Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson, instead of the neuroticism of an aging New Yorker wringing his hands about the meaning of life. Life is still meaningless, but this time we get the message from the luscious lips and half-mast eyes of the stars of Vicky Cristina Barcelona.Now, from Spain, Allen has produced a movie that plays like a greatest hits album. And thats not just because the cast includes Spains two best (and best-looking) actors, Bardem and Penelope Cruz, who play Juan Antonio and Maria Elena, two divorced painters who have driven each other to attempted homicide. Or because their explosive relationship is reignited by Johansson, who enters their lives as Cristina, an American spending her summer in Barcelona. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is beautiful because Allen is now decidedly in control of this phase of his career, which blends the sharpness of his older dramas with a newly acquired expatriate hipness.When Juan Antonio invites two women to a weekend outside of Barcelona, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) balks at the strangers boldness. Cristina is smitten by it. Both friends are charmed, and both fall for him. Maria Elena fractures the narrative hypotenuse of the love triangle.Allen has given us Freudian love triangles before. Hes given us lustful rogues and confused heroines. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is different because its really about Vicky, and Cristina, and Juan Antonio, and Maria Elena. Through these elegantly drawn characters, and the fine performances by each actor, Allen gets at a big philosophical theme without worrying about landing punch lines or wringing hands.