By Alex Florez
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexuality, and smoking.
Release Date: 2008-08-15
Starring: Woody Allen
Country: USA, Spain
Official Website: http://vickycristina-movie.com/
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Not so long ago, New York based director (at that time, anyway) Woody Allen once confessed to us that the reason there are never any prominent hispanic characters in any of his films is because he sticks to what he knows. Meaning of course, old Jewish families, upper class Manhattanites and chaotic love affairs that usually flirt with death. So what does Allen now know about Catalonia and Spanish culture in general that prompts him to set his latest film on the mediterranean coast? Other than that they will finance his films?
To answer my own question, I think the appeal for Allen has been the idea that such sexual promiscuity and emotional confusion also exists outside the realm of New York and in practically every single corner of the globe.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona, his first and most likely last film to be set in Spain, pits Scarlett Johansson (Cristina) and Rebecca Hall (Vicky) as two American friends who decide to spend their summer in Barcelona. Cristina, more of a wandering spirit, is always on the lookout for adventure, while Vicky on the other hand, is much more sensible and committed to her fiance back home.
But their radically different attitudes towards love are tested when they meet Spanish painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and his volatile ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz).
A case can be made that Allen has made this same film 35 times over (excluding the ‘early funny ones’). As usual, you’ll find plenty of sarcasm, infidelity and yes, a few rounds fired from a gun. But the plot only sizzles when Penelope Cruz joins the cast. Her turbulent behavior is wildly reminiscent of Judy Davis’ brilliant performance in Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997).
Unfortunately, in this film, Cruz is the catalyst for an event that never arrives. The sense that something absurd, tragic and utterly hilarious would take place in the end, the way it did in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) for instance, kept building throughout the film. Instead, it moves right along, one lustful scene after another, wondering what sort of statement it wants to make about ‘love’ that it hasn’t already.
Then there’s the mysterious voice over which threads the film together. Totally unnecessary given that it doesn’t really explain anything nor does it provide any insight from an omniscient point of view.
The movie’s funniest moments, without question, rely on the chemistry between Bardem and Cruz, giving way to the little momentum the film manages at times – making Johansson and Hall seem out of touch with the whole ‘Woody Allen genre’.
Hispanics however, will marvel at how well Allen’s neurotic language translates in Spanish. While most of the film is spoken in English, the few scenes where Bardem and Cruz exchange a few words in, are hysterical. More evidence that these days, the international community seems to get Woody more than we do.