Vicky Cristina Barcelona
A somewhat cynical and detached examination of what it is to love, it is both what you expect of a Woody Allen movie and what you fear most from his most recent expeditions into the cinematic realm.
Vicky and Cristina are two American tourists in the Spanish city trying to claim ex-patriot status whilst embodying exactly what it is to be neurotic New Yorkers who are incapable of feeling comfortable outside of their island realm. Vicky (Rebecca Hall), the sensible and almost emblematic embodiment of Woody himself, tries to keep the deeply fickle and transient Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) from associating with the sensual and turbulent Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). She fails so miserably that even she herself ends up humouring the eccentric artist sexually, without giving much thought to her expectant fiance until their moment together has past. Vicky then exists stage left quite quickly to wax lyrical with her fiance whilst Cristina moves in with Bardem and later his ex-wife Maria Elena.
Being a Woody production, sex is treated as something extremely carnal and an idea completely foreign and awkward to the writer/director – it is evident that he still maintains it is a rather unintelligable, wholly unsavoury idea. One can see such this in the use of a narrator who seems in himself superfluous other than to highlight how ludicrous the entire affair is and one should never allow themselves to become too obsessed with passion that is not directed towards some more palatable end.
Whereas the Europeans of this piece come off as being largely consumed by their passions, they are always directed towards some artistic end. The sensuality involved seems on some level, to be merely part of the process through which they discover their mediums and probe what it is to be in love. The Americans on the other hand, particularly Cristina seem brittle and fickle, unable to figure out what they want and deeply unhappy in whatever they attempt because their own inherent neurosis. The Spanish cast are in some way, happier for acknowledging their issues and realising the limitations that they have whilst the remaining two are paralyzed by fear to accomplish nothing more than some sort of validated self-pity. The constant tug of war between both factions is where the few comedic moments exist and also where the finest acting comes out, unfortunately it is never from Johanssen, Allen’s latest muse. Hall shines in her performance as the questioning Vicky but is always upstaged by Bardem and the electric Cruz, who finally manages to portray her usual intensity associated with her native tongue in English (Allen creates an almost in-joke i the frequency of asking her to speak in English for the benefit of the non-natives); Bardem’s talent within the US system has been evident since his recent foray with the Cohen Brothers and perhaps many will be upset at his somewhat limited inclusion within the script.
Also evident from the title is how the city itself play a central role in the film, providing the background for all the experimentation and creativity experienced. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to embolden itself beyond the standard tourist shots and brochure images that we already expect of such a place.
For everything that is right with this piece, there is something equally at fault. Thankfully, as it progresses, it becomes more sure of itself and its direct to such an extent that we finally see a mild flourish on the part of a once former visionary. For Allen, this is nowhere near a return to form; by removing this yardstick, we can appreciate it for what it really is – a film far superior to the majority of modern studio works.