Vicky, Christina, Barcelona ***1/2
One Liner Review:
A very artistic and unusually funny movie about guilty pleasures when living in a foreign country and being out of one’s comfort zone.
Vicky, Christina, Barcelona is an American movie about spain that really tries hard to capture the cultural essence of the place, not only in atmosphere, art, and music, but also in it’s laid back, free-spirited, go with the flow kind of mentality. It’s a woody allen movie, made at the time when woody allen was trying to reinvent himself, and doing pretty well with it. He made Match point first, then followed it with this, and finally, he ended his reinvention period with Cassandra’s dream, a colin farrell-ewan mcgregor film that was basically just a recycling of match point. That movie was lousy, but his first two in this reinvention era, were terrific.
While Match Point is a murder mystery, and therefore falls into a genre that we’ve seen done a hundred times before, (with detectives investigating and the killer trying to cover it up and all that), Vicky Christina, Barcelona is anything but. It’s a completely fresh and original movie about two girls who go off to spain to spend the summer. They’re american and they mix in with the locals, but this does not become anything like the usual movie that starts off with that premise (Hostel, taken). Instead, the girls pursue a romance with a local man. Both of them.
It all starts when the girls are at dinner one evening and Javier Bardem approaches their table and in his first two sentences to them, asks them to come fly away with him to another part of spain. He even tells them what’s on his mind, that the three of them will go to bed together. And Somehow, scarlet johansen (the more free-spirited of the girls), agrees and manages to drag her friend vicky along.
They fly off to ovieTto where Christina (Johansen) gets sick, and vicky ends up spending a couple of days and nights hanging out one on one with bardem. Before leaving barcelona, she couldn’t stand him, but now after these few days together, they have become quite close.
When they return to barcelona, Christina starts up a romance with bardem, but it’s vicky who just can’t stop thinking about him. Her fiance is on his way over, with the intention of getting married to her there, in barcelona, and vicky can’t help but wonder if she’s making the right choice.
christina moves in with bardem and vicky continues to stay at her aunt’s place (Patricia clarkson, fantastic in this film as a woman who sees a younger version of herself in vicky). vicky studies in libraries and museums while christina lives the life with her painter boyfriend.
But then one day, bardem’s ex-wife, Marie Elena (penelope cruz) is brought in to stay with them after a suicide attempt, and things get spun on their edge a little bit. Marie elena is a bit of nut, and christina has somewhat of a hard time accepting this new woman into their home. her world is suddenly challenged, because she considers herself an open-minded person who can handle anything, and now she is thrown off guard by a cultural clash where bardem sees this idea of having his ex-wife stay with them, as no big deal.
What’s brilliant about this movie, is that even this situation does not become the central conflict. Christina deals with the situation and all characters involved move forward. This movie, like christina, refuses to get stuck in one situation and to dwell on it. When a problem or new plot twist arises, it is delt with and then the characters move on.
As the movie continues, vicky comes back into the spotlight, as the character who is most uncertain of her future. Christina is okay with flying by the seat of her pants and not knowing what lies ahead, but vicky wants so badly to commit and be settled that she needs to make sure she won’t have any regrets first. It’s very interesting how different the two girls are and how they each travel down completely different paths because the decisions they make in response to similar situations.
Woody allen has a wonderful story to tell here and he does it by having fun. He never lets any moment or plot line drag, and is equally fascinated with the music and scenery as he is with the people. There is voice-over narration during the first half of the film, and it wisely disappears completely as the movie reaches it’s halfway point and penelope cruz appears. She is a firebird in this film (she won an oscar for it), and with her on screen, there is no need for any voice over. Things are two crazy and kinetic as it is.
Woody allen also uses very fast-moving spanish music in the first half of the film, repeating a song over and over again as the basic sound track to the movie, propelling the characters along. But then in the second half, that song disappears, which is another trick he uses to give the first half a completely different feel than the second half of the film. It works.
The movie is shot through a yellow filter, making everything look all the more unique and special. The music and lighting are both great, but the story and characters are where this movie truly achieves success. Javier Bardem as Juan Antonio is absolutely magnificent. He made this movie one year after he won the oscar for No Country for old men, and you can see the confidence in his performance, oozing out of every syllable he utters.
This movie is a pretty fantastic experience, giving us fascinating characters and a creative story unlike anything we’ve really seen before. Woody Allen has spent the better part of his career making movies in and about new york, and it seems like he has honed his craft their and learned how to go somewhere else and capture not only the atmosphere, but the mentality as well. Both Cruz and bardem have never been better, and they take woody allen’s vision of this movie and carry it to a whole other level.