Vicky Christina Barcelona

The talk on the street is that Woody Allen has lost his touch since coming to Europe – this is his fourth film shot over here, but that Vicky Cristina Barcelona shows signs of returning to form. The last Woody Allen film I saw was Melinda and Melinda (2004) and before that Mighty Aphrodite in 1995 so perhaps I am not in a good position to judge, except that this might just prove the point on the influence of reviews…So why did we choose this film when there are so many other great movies around? Two reasons – both centred around Penelope Cruz: one, she has just won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress and, two,  husband is an avid fan, especially in Almodovar movies, so he says – trying to impress with his movie credentials. I can think of other reasons.

In the opening moments of the film I know I am going to find this as irritating as I now remember many Woody Allen films to be. The grating artifice of a narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) whose words sound like Woody, but who is obviously not, is a constant niggle throughout the film. 

Having recently been on art trip to Barcelona, to take in Gaudi and Miro, it was fun and nostalgic to be able to identify many of the locations and ornate buildings. The plot itself centres around the art world: two girls Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) come to Barcelona to stay with friends of Vicky’s parents – in some luxury it must be said. Vicky is enjoying her last moments of freedom before she marries nice but dull (or even nice but dim) Doug (Chris Messina), while Cristina has just made a short film about Love, but despairs of ever finding it. 

On their first night they are taken to an opening where they are mesmerised by a smouldering and sensual artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, unrecognisable since his last starring role in No Country for Old Men where he was a geeky – remember the pudding basin? – but terrifying crook). He whisks them off to Oviedo, as he says to drink wine, sightsee and hopefully to make love; one goes willingly and one not.  Soon has them both in his thrall. Into this rather pedestrian but mildly amusing narrative (bar the narrator himself who is always intruding) storms Juan Antonio’s ex wife Maria Elena, a spitting and smouldering Penelope Cruz,  and from that moment on we are captivated by her beauty, her rages, her charm, and her childishness. She completely dominates as the story weaves around ménages a trois and a quatre. She certainly deserved the BAFTA. Nevertheless it must be annoying for both Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall, not to mention the mouth-watering Javier Bardem, who all acquitted themselves well, to have the show not so much as stolen but whisked away from under their feet. 

I heard Clint Eastwood being interviewed this week on Radio 4, and he was being asked whether he though his films were better when he both acted and directed, or just directed or just acted. The consensus seems to go with the former – think of the successes of Billion Dollar Baby, Unforgiven and even the recent Gran Torino, which has won nothing (so far) but has been widely praised (to be reviewed here shortly!) versus The Changeling, which I thought was a good film but has so far yielded little; and then ask the same question about Woody Allen. To my mind, Woody Allen’s US-based films in which he played leading roles are the classics – think Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanours and Hannah and Her Sisters. Since then he has really struggled to be funny, and I think it’s because he himself so is droll. Osmosis does not seem to work in films.

Back to VCB. If Woody Allen had done the voiceover himself, for instance, that would have made a big difference, but as it is the film remains a showpiece for La Cruz, with some fine support staff (thought she was the supporting actress – the same old chestnut), but in the end is really a film about nothing much, well directed and prettily located. Good for a night out when you don’t want to be depressed, but otherwise I would say there are many better films to see right now!

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