Woody Allen has officially expanded beyond New York City. With a sun-drenched Spain, primarily Barcelona, as his setting, Mr. Allen provides us with another treatise in his exploration of love, relationships and human chemistry.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johanson) are friends, but polar opposites. Vicky is practical, and as such, is engaged to marry an upper crust east coast steady. Cristina is more adventurous and is on a constant search for romance with thrills. Pic opens as they arrive in Barcelona to stay the summer at one of Vicky’s parents friends who now live there. The friends are very well off and socially connected, which gets the young women in on the Barcelona scene.
While having a late night dinner the women are approached by a local artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who they saw at a gallery opening earlier that day. He is famous for having had an extremely messy divorce, which included his wife trying to kill him. He offers to whisk the women off to a small village for the weekend, where they will all make love. His boldness intrigues Cristina, but Vicky is of course uninterested.
We are guided by a narrator throughout the film who keeps the talk simple, but insightful, telling only what’s necessary. Mr. Allen packs a lot into this relatively short film, with sharp dialog and comedic touches as only he can. It’s a short leap of the imagination to hear Woody’s voice in the narration.
We discover that Juan’s ex wife is Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) and she re-enters his life through an attempted suicide. By this time Juan is living with Cristina and so the three of them occupy Juan’s house. Juan and Maria are made for each other. They make wonderful love, inspire each other’s artistic endeavors, but they always end up in a huge blow out. Since Christina has entered their lives they are getting on famously. Perhaps she was the missing ingredient.
This is the theme of the film. Finding the glue that holds your relationships together during the trying times. Some things work, others don’t mesh when you are in a relationship. Most people accept the misses and focus on the hits, but Vicky, Cristina, Juan and Maria want it all. They know what doesn’t work and what they don’t want, but can’t quite piece it all together.
The acting is excellent all around. Penelope Cruz nails the hot tempered artistic type who is insane and keeps the film from falling into table (or bed) talk. Javier Bardem, fresh from his Oscar winning performance in No Country for Old Men, plays it completely different. He is very effective as the smooth artist, borderline womanizer, who has great comedic timing. Rebecca Hall’s performance as Vicky, was the biggest surprise for me. She played the straight and narrow with perfect pitch, but when it’s her turn to be the linchpin, she does it exceedingly well. Ms. Johansson plays Cristina smart but with a touch of vulnerability. She ends up doubting her ability to live on Juan’s level and her decision late in the film is the catalyst for the stories’ climax.
Regardless of what you think about Woody Allen, I would highly recommend this film for it’s interesting treatment of love and life, without taking itself too seriously. Visit the official Vicky Cristina Barcelona web site here.