12 September 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Written & Directed by: Woody Allen
Full credits from IMDb

Every character and every relationship (but not every city) in Vicky Cristina Barcelona has a clear opposite that illuminates its parallel. It bursts with contrasts, first and foremost among them its eponymous Betty and Veronica dichotomy. (Allen ditches titular commas, presumably because characters and city are meant to mush into an inseparable whole.) Vicky, the stern brunette (Rebecca Hall), plays foil to her biffle, the fun loving, platinum blond Cristina (Scarlett Johansson, shaping up to be this decade’s Woody Allen It Girl, for better or worse); the former is working on an impractical Master’s in Catalan Identity, while the latter is a wannabe artist with an ulcer; each is a girl in need of direction and, since this is a Woody Allen movie, they get it, for a spell anyway, from a man.

That life-upending lover—Spanish, swarthy, etc.—comes in the strapping shape of Javier Bardem, whom Johansson, lilting with moist desire as she overhears gossip of his violent (read: steamy) romantic history, first espies from across an art opening. When he frankly propositions the two finding-myself tourists for a weekend of art appreciation and lovemaking, Vicky gives a firm no pero Cristina says oh, sí! (He eventually seduces each, to different ends.) Gentle and confident, avoiding a cartoonish Casanova, Bardem serves as the Anti-Allen, a man liberated from his neuroses and refreshingly honest, not only with others but with himself. Set in a carefree and ready-for-love Spain, in contrast to Allen’s ol’ nervy New York (or his murder-crazy London), Vicky Cristina explores life’s loveliest and simplest virtues—wine, food, music, sex, etc.—complicating them only with the universal struggle to align epicurean delights with love, that ever-elusive and indefinable ideal. Thus, the characters spend the film analyzing themselves and each other—remember? This is a Woody Allen movie—in between moments of lusty attraction. “If you don’t start undressing me soon,” Johansson tells Bardem at one point, “this is going to turn into a panel discussion.”

Through Vicky, Allen explores the virtues and discontents of predictability, as well as how fear locks people into unhappy routines. (Squirm as she watches her fiancé and their friends discuss awesome new technology and interior decorating theory.) More strikingly, Allen uses Cristina to look at the potential functionality of a love triangle (with the late introduction of a frazzled, furious and hilarious Penelope Cruz), ultimately deciding that sometimes two people work together, but sometimes they don’t. That is: torrid Iberian threesomes for some, faithful coupling for others. In an era of democracy imposition at the point of a gun, Allen argues that, particularly overseas, the American way isn’t always the best. Unsurprisingly, for a man so vilified in popular culture, Allen argues: to each his own. Vive y deja vivir. Let me have my Soon Yi and live with it, too. Grade: B+

Watch the trailer:

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