Sexually adventurous Cristina and her friend Vicky, who is bright but cautious, holiday in Barcelona where they meet the celebrated and wholly seductive painter, Juan Antonio. Vicky is not about to dive into a sexual adventure being committed to her forthcoming marriage. But Cristina is immediately captivated by Juan Antonio's free spirit and his romantic allure is enhanced when she hears the delicious details of his divorce from fellow artist, the tempestuous Maria Elena. Written by
Oviedo is referred to as part of Catalonia with Vicky continuing her research on "Catalan culture" while she is there. In fact, Oviedo is in Asturias, not Catalonia. See more »
Vicky and Cristina decided to spend the summer in Barcelona. Vicky was completing her master's in Catalan Identity, which she had become interested in through her great affection for the architecture of Gaudí. Cristina, who spent the last six months writing, directing, and acting in a 12-minute film which she then hated, had just broken up with yet another boyfriend and longed for a change of scenery. Everything fell into place when a distant relative of Vicky's family who lived in...
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An Open-Minded, Nonjudgmental Portrait of the Boundless Scenarios In Which Love Can Be Found
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is among the cream of the Woody Allen crop, in the midst of Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Match Point. It may even be a wiser film than any of them. What Woody has done throughout his film career is seek the answers to his own life questions in any number of ways. Some later films contradict the philosophical implications of previous ones. Some reaffirm them. His foremost theme has always been the complications of love and sex, and this ultimately genre-less film that I suppose could be considered a romantic seriocomedy may be his magnum opus of his sexual and romantic revelations.
Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall, and Cristina, by Scarlet Johansson, go to Barcelona for the summer, settling with Vicky's distant relative (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband. A Narrator, present all through the film, the particular matter-of-fact likes of which Allen has never before used, illustrates the two friends: Vicky is no-nonsense and conservative in her attitude toward love and commitment, engaged to the dependable but less than passionate yuppie. She is in Barcelona getting her masters, and is deeply stirred by Spanish guitar. Cristina, in contrast, is impulsive and irresolute of what she wants in life. She is just out of a relationship and wants to forget about her experience making a short film about Love, perhaps a nod to Woody's own admitted negative reflections on his previous works.
At an art exhibition, these two symbolically contrasting women observe a notorious painter, played with suavity and charisma by Javier Bardem. Cristina is immediately fascinated with him, and grows captivated when she and Vicky learn that he has undergone a violent relationship with his ex-wife. Later, the girls spot him in a restaurant, where he stoically approaches their table and unexpectedly invites them to go along with him to Oviedo, where they will tour, wine, dine and, with any luck, make love. Straight away Cristina consents, Vicky refuses, but Vicky is is ultimately persuaded and the twosome go with the self- designed artistic and drifting romantic on a small private plane through a rainstorm.
What follows is a free-flowing rectangle of romance with any combination of Bardem, Vicky, Cristina, and Bardem's unmanageably volatile ex-wife Penelope Cruz, who deserves an Oscar nomination for her work here. There are many ways in which the two American women change for the better and change not at all. One facet of the story is a clash of conventional American and liberated European cultures. Another is spiritual freedom, signified by Vicky's conventional reticence and thus conflicted feelings that she may be missing out on so much, and Cristina's mutability. A lesser title for the movie but an apt one nonetheless could have been Why Not?
Woody is expressing through his characters his urge to be free of all psychological and emotional restrictions. In any case, characters as open as Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem's seem to need similarly adaptable significant others. I find it interesting that Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, Woody's women, all brought out their inner nebbishes due to intimate involvement with him, as in his eagerness to lift a lover's state of mind, he ends up, sooner or later, virtually turning his woman roughly into a female version of himself. Johansson and Hall's summer in Spain, if anything, releases them from the sludge of mediocrity, particularly that which results from fear and common custom.
By saying all that, I have not even come close to giving anything away. The way things turn out would hardly make sense to characters like Vicky, or her fiancé, and that is what makes it a natural flow from the heart. Woody Allen's brilliantly written, guilelessly directed and convincingly acted Spanish debut-and-swan song is not a comedy for the same reasons as nearly every other comedy Woody has made. It is a comedy essentially because of the culture clash. The film depends on our reactions to things that really are not inherently funny except to unaccustomed eyes. Likewise, the bewildered Americans are just as funny from the other side of the gamut. Without any doubt in my mind, this is not only Woody Allen's best film in years, but one of his very best of his entire 42-film, 42-year career as a writer-director of consistently good films.
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