Vicky Christina Barcelona

Woody Allen continues his late-period European tour with a trip to Spain for Vicky Christina Barcelona, an engaging but weightless story of a couple of American girls on extended summer vacation in the Catalan capital that get into all sorts of romantic adventures with the hot-blooded locals.

We first meet the titular Vicky and Christina as they step off the plane. Tall, serious brunette Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is there to stay with her ex-pat aunt and uncle (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn) while completing her graduate thesis on Catalan identity. Her best friend, the blonde and frivolous Christina (Allen’s latest muse Scarlett Johansson) is along for the ride, looking to relax after a year spent making a dull student film for her art school degree. Christina is looking for adventure but Vicky has had enough of all that, she's accepted a marriage proposal from her buttoned-down Wall Street sweetheart Doug (Chris Messina). She's safe.

Having completed their whistle-stop excursion around Barcelona’s landmarks – mostly Gaudi, mostly shot as postcards – the girls attend an art exhibition and meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a brooding artist and bon vivant. With devastating frankness, he asks the two young Americans to fly away with him for a weekend in the nearby town of Oviedo, ostensibly to see the sights, but also to share his bed. Just the three of them. Prim, proper Vicky is outraged but Christina is already sitting on the plane, buckling her seat belt, smitten by Juan Antonio’s other-worldly intensity and heavy-lidded stare.

Sexual misadventures and misunderstandings ensue. Vicky, torn between her duty to her fiancée and her desire to live a little, inoculates herself from Juan Antonio’s charms but Christina is badly smitten, spending her days in his studio and her nights in his bed. Then, about an hour in, the film kicks into life with the arrival of Juan Antonio’s tempestuous ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), who explodes onto the screen in a blaze of bouffant hair and fiery eyes, bringing some much needed drama and passion to what was a fading scenario. The film is worth seeing for Cruz’s performance alone.

Allen fans, and they remain a legion, await his annual releases with an undying sense of anticipation, hoping for another Annie Hall or Manhattan. It doesn’t look like it’s ever going to happen. Vicky Christina Barcelona is a bright, fizzy concoction that zips along at a fair clip and contains pointed mediations on the nature of love and the passion of creativity. Intended as a spiky summer romance, there’s still something unnervingly odd about Bardem’s irresistible machismo and something of an indulgent male fantasy about his studied dalliances with the hearts of three beautiful women. Positioned as the centre of the Catalan universe, the actor has enough appeal to carry the role. We should be grateful for Bardem’s bulky pugnacity. Ten years ago Woody might have played the part himself.

After the dreadful gangster misfire Cassandra’s Dream, Allen’s return to comedy drama is welcome, although ‘comedy’ might be stretching it as, barring a great moment with a pistol, there aren’t really any jokes. Come to think of it, Oscar-winner Cruz aside, there isn’t all that much in the way of drama either. I’m not sure what that leaves us with, but it all looks very sunny and pretty.

1 comment:

Puppetmister said...

I agree with your assessment, only more so. I hated this lazy film for all the same reasons you disliked it. I can't even discuss it without sarcasm. I've given up preceding my comments about Woody Allen's recent films with the disclaimer that "I loved his earlier work": I don't have to convince people that I'm not one of those viewers who has always been allergic to his style. VCB is just a "bad" film, not least because of the endless voiceover that tells us what the characters are thinking, feeling and doing rather than trusting the actors to show it to us.

Penelope Cruz's Oscar for Best Supporting actress was well-deserved on terminological grounds alone - she's the only thing holding this thing up. Maybe it's because she speaks a lot of Spanish in it, so she's not forced, like his other actresses, to mimic Allen's own delivery (and with it his monochrome vision of women).