Yesterday, I finally saw the (written & directed) Woody Allen movie, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (official website link at left - not Firefox-friendly, though). It was good! Not great, but definitely good.
The movie stars the Allen-fave Scarlett Johansson as "Cristina", Rebecca Hall as "Vicky" (who doesn't even get top-three billing!), and Spaniards Javier Bardem & Penélope Cruz - who has the smallest role of all and yet gets SECOND-billing. The latter surprises me only somewhat. Rebecca Hall, while lesser known, has every bit of time onscreen as Scarlett Johansson but her name is lost in the "Also appearing" credits at the bottom of the movie poster.
But this isn't your typical Woody Allen movie. First, Allen doesn't act or narrate the movie. GOOD! I think most moviegoers these days are a bit tired of the fast-paced dialogue and neurotic character of him. He definitely knows how to write, though, and wisely - yet curiously - chose a young man's voice to narrate the film. We never find out who this man is. Just a narrator!
For movies like this one, knowing I'd have to someday review it, I purposely shielded myself from video clips, reading other reviews, or talking to friends about the movie. But still, while most of the film takes places in and near Barcelona City - as well as some scenes in Oviedo - I'm surprised by the lack of "buzz" for this movie here in Spain. And Spaniards absolutely LOVE Woody Allen. This seems to be his second home, constantly being honored with film-related awards and seemingly constantly playing his clarinet in big concerts in San Sebastian and other northern cities.
Vicky & Cristina, both American east-coast, big-city 20-somethings decide to go to Barcelona for the summer - each with their own reasons. Vicky, an impetuously wild spirit, wants to clear her head after yet another stormy and failed relationship. Cristina is having one last adventure as a single, goal-driven and responsible woman before getting married to the "perfect-yet-boring" man.
Vicky & Cristina meet bold Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) at a Barcelona restaurant after Vicky continues to stare at him from their table. He's a free-thinking, socially and sexually liberal painter with a fiery past - and ongoing - relationship with his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). Juan Antonio walks over to meet them and immediately invites them both to fly to Oviedo for a weekend of wine-tasting, sight seeing, and threesome sex. Cristina is shocked and rejects him but Vicky is intrigued. Still, they both fly to Oviedo with him in his friend's 4-seater plane.
During the weekend, circumstances shift. While Vicky becomes sick and stays in bed from an existing ulcer, Cristina falls for Juan Antonio and has a beautiful, profoundly romantic experience with him, forever changing her concept of love and dedication.
The movie continues and Cristina comes to her senses, re-committing herself to her visiting fiance. Vicky's health improves and she falls more deeply in love with Juan Antonio, moving in with him to his house/painting-studio, and Cristina never shares her secret love affair with Vicky.
It's while Vicky is Juan Antonio's live-in-lover that suicidal Maria Elena first appears, recently released from the hospital for a near-overdose of pills. She's tortured and also an artist (cliché??!!), still deeply in love with her ex-husband Juan Antonio. Due to her fragile condition, Juan Antonio invites Maria Elena to move in with them. Shocked, Vicky reluctantly agrees.
Days pass and the three of them grow close. They live the stereotypical bohemian life in the rural art studio with impassioned painting, deep discussions, and two-way, three-way, heterosexual, and lesbian sex with interchangeable partners under the same roof.
Everything goes perfectly well for awhile but surprisingly it's Vicky whom removes herself from the situation, saying it's just too-much for her, and she decides to travel France for the last couple of weeks of the summer. Shortly thereafter, Juan Antonio and Maria Elena are left alone again to their stormy and self-destructive ways as a couple. Maria Elena leaves.
Juan Antonio reconnects with Cristina who can't stop thinking about him and her eye-opening experiences with him in Oviedo. With Cristina's fiance playing golf with friends, she meets Juan Antonio one more time, not having to wonder forever if HE was the ONE for her. They're interrupted by drunken and crazed Maria Elena who's carrying a gun and threatening murder and-or suicide.
At the end of their summer in Barcelona, Vicky is still searching for unrealistic love but Cristina's concept of love and passion is RE-defined forever - yet she presumably goes back to marry her "perfect man".
The movie's end is, at least for me, left with nothing but untied ends, something "they say" shouldn't be done in a Hollywood movie. But Woody Allen movies are rarely your typical Hollywood fare - so in that regard it's a positive thing. The point of the movie is not necessarily to simply entertain but to cause us to question love and passion, how they are or should be, how fleeting love and passion are in a relationship, and the differences between "loving" and "being in love."
Barcelona Sights Seen in the Movie:
We really don't see much of Barcelona. It must be difficult filming someplace where there are LOTS of people milling about at all times. For this reason, most scenes are either close-up or far-away. We see just a bit of Antonio Gaudi's Parc Güell (the painted tile mosaic lizard), a bit of some of the rides of the Tibidabo Amusement Park and a hazy horizon of Barcelona City below, Gaudi's Sagrada Familia towers and 2-seconds of the inside roof, 10-seconds from atop Gaudi's Casa Mila - La Pedrera while walking among the chimney pots, a brief closeup scene of looking at birds on La Rambla, and a couple no-dialogue scenes of Vicky taking photos in the Barrio Gótico.
Final Thoughts & Observations:
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is worth a look and it will make you think a bit about the concept of love and relationship. I have to say that while watching this movie I thought several times, "Ho! Every place they live, all the restaurants where they eat, all the sights they see are just too perfect!" They're kindly housed in the mansion of friends-of-American-friends in Barcelona's outskirts, but they also stay in a beautiful, historic, 5-Star Hotel de la Reconquista in Oviedo City, but also attend an intimate, romantic, 8-person wine-drinking, outdoor-gazebo-setting private performance by a Spanish guitarrist which made me say, "That NEVER happens unless you know the guitarrist personally!" Apparently Juan Antonio is an insider with such things. The movie's music is pretty good, with Paco de Lucia's "Entre Dos Aguas" played at least three times in the movie.