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Vicky Cristina Barcelona
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Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz (Volver) and Golden Globe nominee Scarlett Johansson (The Nanny Diaries) light up the stunning city of Barcelona in this sexy romantic comedy. Vicky and Cristina are two young Americans spending a summer in Spain, who meet a charming Casanova and his beautiful but volatile ex-wife. When they all become romantically entangled, the smoldering sparks begin to fly in hilarious fashion. Critics rave, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of Woody Allen s finest films, with bravura performances from its incredible cast (Jeffrey Lyons, Reel Talk/NBC).
It must be true that getting out of town can do a fellow a lot of good, because Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the best movie Woody Allen has made in years. Okay, you're right, 2006's Match Point already claimed that honor and, as Allen's first film made in England, established the virtues of getting away from overfamiliar territory (namely Manhattan). But the Woodman's first film made in Spain matches the ice-cold Match Point for crisp authority, and yields a good deal more sheer pleasure besides. Rebecca Hall (Vicky) and Scarlett Johansson (Cristina) play two young Americans, best friends, spending a summer in Catalonia. Vicky is going for a master's in "Catalan identity" (though her Spanish is shaky); Cristina is going along for, oh, just about anything. That soon includes celebrated abstract artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who's anything but abstract in his forthright proposition that the two join him in his private plane, his travels, and his bed. That he has an insane ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), who may or may not have tried to kill him is not really an issue until the wife reappears and ... well, consider the possibilities.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona isn't exactly a comedy, at least not in the manner of Allen's "early, funny ones," but it's informed by a rueful wit that finds its fullest expression in reflective voiceover commentary. Spoken by Christopher Evan Welch, but surely on behalf of the 73-year-old auteur, this element of the film is neither (as some have charged) patronizing nor uncinematic; rather, it's integral to the movie's participation in a venerable European literary tradition, the sentimental education. Instead of Bergman or Fellini, this time Allen is invoking the François Truffaut of Jules and Jim and Eric Rohmer in his many meditations on the game of love. The entire cast is terrific (both Hall and Johansson get to play "the Woody part" at different points), with Bardem and Cruz especially delightful as exemplars of Old Worldliness. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe honors every drop of Catalonian sunlight and glint of Gaudí architecture. --Richard T. Jameson
Stills from Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Click for larger image)
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This slice of life, set in Barcelona, will, without a doubt, drop the ineffable puzzles and charms of the human heart right in your lap and, like Rubrik's Cube, puzzle, frustrate, delight. But it just sings with humaneness and pure joy in being alive twixt several different forces at the same time, cultural, just being a free human being on the earth, living without guile, guilt or judgments. And, keep your figurative fingers on your own heart's pulse for reactions. It might be telling. No matter, it's the romantic comedy that isn't.
That said, the movie is worthwhile to see just for Penelope Cruz, who together with Javier Bardem, is the best part of the movie. She showed real commitment to her role in spite of the weak story, and was highly entertaining to watch. Her chemistry with Bardem was apparent as well. Scarlett Johanssen was a weak link aside from the narration gimmick, her performance to me feeling like she wasn't getting the character, who was supposed to be a flighty, bohemian dilettante sort. She comes across as too grounded and confident to be the person she was portraying.
But again, worthwhile for Cruz and Bardem.
The theme of this film reminds me of the Beach in some respects. Both films explore the desire for perfection, as well as its ultimate elusiveness. Even when the perfect state is seemingly achieved, it can only be maintained for a brief moment. If you like Woody Allen films, you may also like this. But if you liked the Beach, you may love this movie.
And then there is Penelope Cruz. Such a forceful actress in anything I have seen her in. She is also one of the few that makes you feel like you could actually fall in love with her.
I also wanted to mention that this would make a great double feature with "Fading Gigolo [Blu-ray]". Not a Woody Allen movie but certainly in his spirit.