Friday, August 15, 2008

Film Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

There use to be a ritual most film goers would keep. Every year Woody Allen would release a film and the public would go out in great excitement to see what Woody had in store for us this time. That ritual has slowly gone away. The last 15 or so years, after some personal stories involving his relationship with Mia Farrow were revealed, even Allen's most loyal critics and fans turned their backs on him.

Many of the New York critics would complain that Allen no longer shows a realistic view of New York. In films such as "Hollywood Ending", "Anything Else" and "Melinda and Melinda" these comments would fill their reviews and lead to their dissatisfaction. Now while many of the upper East side, Liberal, pretentious New Yorkers may have felt the same way, the problem with these remarks are, people in Cleveland, Chicago or Boston really don't care. We don't live in New York so we don't know how you New Yorkers view your city. Plus, these are movies. It is okay if Allen's films are not realistic portraits of the city he loves.

I mention all of this because when Allen shot "Match Point", his first film in London, many of the critics, including those in New York, went on and on how great it was to see Allen shot in a new location. How the London landscape offered something new for Allen and added depth to his story about the upper class and lust. I never agreed. I enjoyed his London films, "Match Point", "Scoop" and last year's "Cassandra's Dream" but I didn't find the landscape to be beautiful. I don't think London is a romantic city. Now, don't get me wrong. London is a nice place, I've spent some time there. The people are friendly and they have the greatest airport in the world. But London doesn't seem sensual. But Barcelona on the other hand is a romantic, sexy city. It adds something to the story in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". In an interview Allen even admitted "when I began writing the script, I wasn't thinking of anything other than creating a story that had Barcelona as a character. I wanted to honor Barcelona."

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is seen by some critics as a yet another comeback for the greatest, unappreciated American comedy filmmaker of the last century. Noah Forrest of "MovieCityNews" wrote "Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a gem of a film, a vintage Woody Allen picture that is most reminiscent of the pictures he made in the late 70s." And in some ways it is.

The film has two young American tourist, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) who visit friends of Vicky's family; Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and Mark (Kevin Dunn) for the summer. At an art gallery they spot a painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who immediately catches Cristina's eye.

The girls, we are told, the film has a narrator, agree on just about every subject except love. Vicky is a more conservative woman who appreciates order, not only in her daily life but in love. She is about to marry Doug (Chris Messina) whom is successful and motived. Cristina is a bit more wild. She doesn't know what she wants out of life. She only knows what she doesn't want, which is everything Vicky wants. Cristina seeks adventure.

Later that same night, at a restaurant, Juan notices the two girls sitting down as Cristina has been looking his way the whole night. He approaches them with a proposition. Why don't the three of them go away to a small island for the weekend, doing some sightseeing and make love. Vicky is a little put off by Juan's directness while Cristina finds it refreshing.

We learn Juan has recently divorced. His wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) actually stabbed him in a moment of passion. Juan openly admits the two were meant to be but can not live together.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" like most of Allen's films is about people searching for love and meaning in their life. What do we want out of love? What do we expect? The most typical Allen female in the film is not Vicky or Cristina but Maria. She is artistic, a painter and pianist, but also crazy and neurotic. She can be driven wild by passion.

The performances in the film are all effective and accomplish what Allen had in mind. It is amazing to see Bardem especially after his work in the Coen Brother's "No Country for Old Men". The range between the two roles and how realistic he seems in both shows his talent. Johansson, at first thought delivered her best performance in an Allen picture, but, the film changes focus and sort of loses her. But she is probably at her most sensual here. And Rebecca Hall, a new face to me, with limited acting experience, is a star in the making. Of course I felt the same way about Halley Atwell in "Cassandra's Dream" and I'm not sure how that will turn out.

But what really impressed me about "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" was the locations and the beautiful work done by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who has worked on Milos Forman's "Goya's Ghost" (also with Bardem) and Almodovar's "Talk to Her".

Roger Ebert I think ends his review with the best insight " Allen has set out to amuse and divert us and discover secrets of human nature, but not tragically deep ones. He is a little like Eric Rohmer here." That is a very clever point Ebert makes but he seems to suggest what the film does accomplish is not enough. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is thoughtful and insightful. It is made in the best tradition of Allen's previous films.