REVIEW: Vicky Cristina Barcelona [2008]

“Counter-intuitive love”

I really love the poster for this film. I had to get that out there. The composition and motion are just stunning. Artistry orchestrated for just the right emotion and aesthetic, something you could say about the movie itself. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a gorgeous piece to view. Not to disregard Woody Allen at all, but I have to credit this look to cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe. The man acted as DP on some of my favorite Spanish films—Hable con ella and Mar adentro—and now has me anticipating John Hillcoat’s forthcoming The Road even more. Truthfully, besides the obligatory serif font, white on black, utilized in the opening credits, you would be somewhat hard-pressed to even realize that this is an Allen film. Europe definitely inspired the man and I’m happy for it. Whether the likes of Gaudio worked as a muse to him like they did to his characters, I don’t know. What I do, though, is that he could never have made this film anywhere but in Barcelona. The beauty, the intrigue, the exoticness; they all overpower the people moving through the story as well as us watching it all unfold.

Let me say something right off … I didn’t really get this movie. I’m not even sure if there is something to get. On a purely aesthetic level, it is fantastic. The visuals, the art and culture on display, the use of language, and even a wonderfully successful third person narrator make this a creative and stimulating work. I don’t want to belittle the writing or the story in any way; I just didn’t quite get what we were being shown. Without ruining anything, not only do our characters finish at the same place from where they began, but also the narrator pretty much repeats his description from the start, at the close. Sure the events that occur shape their lives at that specific period of time, but neither really do anything about it. Maybe they learned something about themselves, maybe they experienced an intrinsic moment that will leave an indelible mark forever, but when all is said and done, both our leads, Vicky and Cristina, do not evolve. Whether it be a carefully planned out future or one filled with the knowledge of what she doesn’t want, unknowing of what she does, our conclusion is so open-ended that it truly begs the question of if this story even needed to be told.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time, and there lies my quandary. How can I enjoy something I don’t feel was a necessity to be seen? How can I recommend something that I myself deem as inconsequential without any progression in plot? The answer of course is the beauty of that which is art. Art is in the eye of the beholder. What you see doesn’t have to make complete sense; it doesn’t have to make you happy, it may, in fact, absolutely incense you. The sheer ability to touch you in some unquantifiable way, some level of consciousness that you can’t even comprehend is enough. To know it touched you without the need for reason can be more powerful than anything else. The emotions on screen, the relationships on display, all hit you viscerally and physically. The raw power of the love triangles and quadrangles stimulate the mind more than any linear tale of young Americans finding their way in a foreign land. Life is messy and irrational; Allen sees this and paints his canvas like such.

The mixture of intellectual conversation, the brilliance of Javier Bardem’s Juan Antonio seducing these women, not with his looks, but with his soul, is a refreshing thing to behold. His brazen confidence laced with a passion and vigor for life is a powerful weapon. While all he needs is sexual power and exotic backgrounds to woo Cristina, (Scarlett Johansson’s free spirited roaming soul), he can still entrance Vicky, (Rebecca Hall’s amazing turn as the rationally sheltered woman unable to follow her feelings), with his rhetoric and intellect, stories of poets and love for simple music done well, even at twelve in the morning. Never confused about what he wants, Bardem is bluntly honest at all times. He does not shy from the fact he still loves his ex-wife, nor that he is attracted to both girls. Always truthful, he is a genuine lover of life, if something doesn’t work out at least he had his time of happiness. One can’t dwell in pain or loss, as no one knows what path the future holds. What might not have worked now doesn’t necessarily have to be broken later on.

Along with the visuals come these gem performances. Bardem is amazing as the puzzle piece linking everything together, stirring the pot while also being its most important ingredient. Johansson, I must say, was really good. She never annoyed me and effectively played the naïve American, thinking she is this open spirit without the knowledge of what practicing her thoughts could lead to. She may not be as open in love as she thought, but then without the experience how could she ever know? As for Hall, I have to say she was somewhat of a revelation. The one actor I was in the dark about outshone them all with her range of emotion, hiding behind her safe life and husband while torn inside about the passion she desires, but is too afraid to consume. And I must mention Penelope Cruz who comes in like a whirlwind and never stops. She is the wild card in this little game, acting as both the glue and volatile fire. None of these four could be removed from the machine and still achieve success. Allen has crafted a tight web of romance that, while it may not lead anywhere, still brings forth a journey worth taking. If nothing else it’s a beast befitting a voyeuristic glance.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson star in Woody Allen’s Vicky
Cristina Barcelona. Photo by: Victor Bello/TWC 2008.
[2] Penélope Cruz as María Elena in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Photo by: Victor Bello/TWC 2008


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