Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Released in 2008, Vicky Cristina Barcelona was directed by Woody Allen, and stars Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall, The Town) and Cristina (Johannsson) spend a summer in Barcelona. While Vicky is engaged, has a fairly traditional vision of love that requires commitment and disregards passion, Cristina is more sexually adventurous and keeps looking for “something different”, which is turned into a theme in the movie. One night they meet Juan Antonio, an enigmatic painter attracted to both of them and still in love with his unstable ex-wife Maria-Elena (Cruz).

This key scene gives a sense of the movie and atmosphere: 

The movie deals with the definition of love, everyone has different definitions and expectations: to Vicky it is commitment, to Cristina it is “something else”, to Juan Antonio it is pleasure, to Maria-Elena it is a perfect mix of different elements, like a recipe. I tend to agree more with that last definition – in the end, Cristina, as is repeated many times in the movie, “is certain, only, of what she doesn’t want”. What works, what doesn’t? Is love a lifetime with someone, or a brief moment? Many questions that have many different answers.

Juan Antonio: Maria Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic.

Narrator: Cristina, on the other hand, expected something very different out of love. She had reluctantly accepted suffering as an inevitable component of deep passion, and was resigned to putting her feelings at risk. If you asked her what it was she was gambling her emotions on to win, she would not have been able to say. She knew what she didn't want, however, and that was exactly what Vicky valued above all else.

The movie shows it is different for everyone, and can sometimes be bittersweet: Vicky has briefly encountered a passion she did not suspect existed but goes back to her quiet, settled life, the other protagonists remain either alone or trapped in a marriage they do not want anymore. It also deals with the idea of control: Vicky has planned her whole life ahead, whereas Cristina goes with the flow. Which works best? That’s for the viewer to decide, in light of their own views and aspirations. Released one year later, Whatever Works, also a cool and entertaining film, deals with the same kind of issue, but is more bitter and more cynical, I found, stating that we go through life and can only expect short-term good moments to make up for our solitude and misery. At least that is how I understood it at the time.

Apart from that, I liked it because it is witty, entertaining, the narrator is not involved but incredibly fun and subtle, the sceneries are great and colorful and made me want to hop on a plane straight away and go to Barcelona. It is set in a context of art, architecture, and I loved the soundtrack, it has rhythm and is catchy and engaging. Everyone acts beautifully and without forcing it. Personally though, I am not sure I understand why everyone thinks Javier Bardem is so magnetic. It transpired throughout the movie, no question, his accent was attractive, but physically I found him a bit basic - I think I am immune! That said, great movie, great entertainment and, as far as I was concerned, a breath of fresh air, color and humor after the darker Cool Hand Luke, Buried and Requiem for a Dream! A super moment.

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