VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Javier Bardem,
Patricia Clarkson, Penelope Cruz, Kevin Dunn, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson,
Director: Woody Allen
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Genius Products
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: January 27, 2009
“Only unfulfilled love can be romantic.”
I’d really been looking forward to Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Actually, I tend to look forward to any movie by Woody Allen. I’ve been saying for years since Stanley Kubrick died that the Woodman is America’s greatest living filmmaker. His scripts, combined with his modest but effective style of directing, almost always make for a delightful cinematic experience.
He’s known primarily for his New York themed films, but in recent years, he’s discovered the joy and beauty of European cities as well. Here, he brings us Barcelona in all its historical, artistic, and architectural glory. But the story, a rather pessimistic look at love and relationships, is old hat and uninspiring.
Sometimes I wonder if Allen needs to grow up and stop being so neurotic about love. It was cute when he was young, but the older he grows, the more irritating his views seem to become. I mean, his point here seems to be that no love is worth the trouble. Comfortable long lasting relationships are stifling, rapid flings are dangerous and unfulfilling, and when given the choice between the two, neither answer is right.
Vicky (Hall) and Cristina (Johansson) are two young friends spending the summer in Barcelona. Vicky is engaged to be married to a dutiful and successful young man, while Cristina is a free spirit, always looking for the next big adventure. It comes to both of them in the form of Juan Antonio (Bardem), an abstract artist who propositions them most directly in a restaurant: fly away with him for a couple of days, and yes, sex is involved.
Cristina persuades the reluctant Vicky, who has no intention of falling for Juan Antonio’s charms. But in the classic Spanish settings, romance is always bubbling to the surface. First it’s Vicky, then Cristina, although Juan Antonio maintains a troubled relationship with his ex-wife Maria Elena (Oscar nominee Cruz). The two would seem to have a perfect love, if they could only stop trying to kill one another.
Vicky gets a sobering lesson in romance from her older friend Judy (Clarkson), who has lived for years under the illusion of a perfect marriage, but is actually unhappy. And when her fiancé Doug (Messina) arrives, Vicky has much to think about and a clear choice to make, with either option seeming to bring more sorrow than joy.
It isn’t exactly Everyone Says I Love You. Is Woody really so unhappy in life? He can take joy in a beautiful city like Barcelona, but uses it to hammer home the notion that love is only a parlor trick. I know he’s had his share of very public relationship troubles, but come on now, Woody…it isn’t so bad.
That’s one interpretation. Another might be that Allen knew what he wanted to see, but not what he wanted to say when he made this picture. His depictions of Spain are perfect, and in some ways the razor thin story seems to be a clothesline to hang picture after picture upon. But it isn’t insightful at all, and that’s a criticism I rarely speak of a Woody Allen film.
He has a good cast, a good cinematographer, and a perfect setting, but he took the most romantic of places and turned it into a den of unhappiness. I guess it’s an original idea; many filmmakers would present Barcelona as a place of inevitable happy endings.
But what does he want to say about it all? That long lasting commitment is puritanical, while free, easy love is a path to heartbreak? The only messages that seem apparent are highly negative ones, and that doesn’t make for compelling filmmaking, even when all of Spain is at your feet.
The gorgeous and sunny Spanish settings make for a marvelous marriage with a 1080p transfer. This is like a joyful picture postcard come to life, with all of Barcelona and its glory coming through in radiant color and detail.
Hmm…well, normally Woody’s films are only in mono, so I suppose getting a stereo mix is an improvement. There’s not a lot of demand here; some nice musical cues including flamenco guitars add buoyancy to the dialogue, but not much in the way of dynamic range.
Features (zero stars)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of Woody’s most beautiful films to date, and also one of the hardest to embrace. It shows us a lot, but tells us very little.