Tuesday 17 February 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) - ickleReview (cinema)

Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson

This latest offering by Wooden Ally (I mean, of course, Woody Allen) is, as the title suggests, about two girls in Spain. Vicky (Rebecca Hall, daughter of Peter Hall) is an American student researching her master's thesis on Catalan identity. She is engaged to a rich, clubby New York businessman (Chris Messina) but has come without him to Barcelona for the summer with her friend, Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who has just finished making an unsatisfactory 12-minute short film about love.

The two friends have opposing views about love and relationships. Vicky is loyal, conservative, conventional, and monogamous; while Cristina has had a string of passionate but doomed love affairs.

One evening at a party, and later in a restaurant, they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a handsome painter who has been through a violent divorce with his wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz). He propositions them, inviting them to spend the weekend with him in Oviedo. Vicky is reluctant, but Cristina is game. The way he propositions them is so blunt it is comic. He tries to seduce them, says he will make love to them, which of course he does.

When Vicky meets Juan Antonio's father, she begins to see a different side of him and eventually gives in. As they kiss for the first time, I noticed the two-shot was slightly out of focus on Vicky. Was this deliberate; or just an error that went unnoticed and was left in? If it was deliberate, what could it mean? That Vicky's old identity and values are dissolving.

The two girls look like opposites: Vicky is brunette; Cristina blonde; thin vs voluptuous; modest vs confident in her sexual allure. But at the beginning there is a slight confusion about their names. Juan Antonio has to make sure he's got them the right way round. I also assumed Scarlett Johansson would have the leading role (as she had in Match Point and Scoop) and so would be named first; not the case.

As ever, the moral of the story is serious, but the way it is played out is somewhat comic. Is the audience's laughter at inappropriate moments nervous, a kind of defence mechanism against the social mores Allen is probing? Does anyone actually behave like this?

Cristina ends up in a ménage à trois when Marie Elena, Juan Antonio's wife, returns to stay with him after a suicide attempt. Vicky begins to regret the conservative choice of marriage to her wooden but decent husband, always making plans about the house they might buy in New York, meeting business associates who aren't really friends. Juan Antonio offers a different sort of life of passion and excitement.

Nugget: an entertaining diversion but unlikely to live long in the memory.


  1. Incidentally, this completes my last missing letter: I have now watched and reviewed a movie for every letter of the alphabet. See my full list of film reviews for the evidence.

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