Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I had to go to the movie just to see what this intriguing title was all about in Woody Allen's latest movie.

Vicky and Cristina are two friends who go on vacation to Barcelona. They couldn’t be more different. Vicky, who is totally prepared to be married, settle down and have kids, and Cristina, who in another life and time would have been a hippy. Vicky and Cristina get different things out of Barcelona, but the one thing they share is Juan Antonio, a Spanish artist.

Juan Antonio kicks things off when he goes up to both of them at a café and offers them an evening of fun and lovemaking in Oviedo. Vicky would rather throw wine in his face than go, while Cristina quickly downs hers so that she can be ready to go. Both women end up going on this adventure.

Juan Antonio is so much the stereotypical Latin lover, at least for the first five minutes, but his ability to listen to each woman and to treat his own situation with humor lifts him above all that. Vicky, played by Rebeccca Hall in a stilting but honest way, and Cristina, played by the not-so-effective Scarlett Johannson, don’t enjoy a similar fate. We figure them out in the cab drive from the airport, and they stay pretty much true to their flavor. Javier Bardem is a wonder to watch as Juan Antonio, and gets even more complex when his ex shows up.

Enter Penelope Cruz as his fiery ex-wife Maria Elena, and just in the nick of time to liven things up for us. A knife incident ended the relationship, but the relationship can never end, and both of them recognize that. Maria Elena is a bit crazy, a bit jealous but still pragmatic, and recognizes that while she can’t have her Juan Antonio, other women will. Still, Maria Elena sizes up Cristina to make sure she’s worthy, and ends up in a brief ménage a trios with Juan Antonio and Cristina just to make sure. It’s a brief encounter, much to our disappointment.

In the end, I don’t know what you have. Vicky, whose brief affair with Juan Antonio shook her out of her staid life a little too much. Cristina, whose shallowness doesn’t seem altered at all. And Juan Antonio, who does what he does. It’s still interesting to watch and with Spain in the background a rather pretty picture.

So, two-thirds of the title isn’t the intriguing part of the movie, but Barcelona, Juan Antonio and Maria Elena are. And that makes it worth seeing.

Thumb’s up.

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