Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Allen, 2008)


Maybe 2008 wasn’t that bad of a year for American cinema after all. Since I posted my year end summation where I blasted recent homegrown output, I’ve seen three exceptional American films – The Wrestler, Wendy and Lucy, and now Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Consider me humbled.

Woody Allen’s latest European jaunt is his best film in years, definitely since Crimes and Misdemeanors, and it’s not just the hypnotic locale that makes Vicky Cristina Barcelona so enthralling. Allen’s crisp and clever screenplay realizes a stunning theme of disappointment running through the veins of each character, no matter their perceptions about love. While much of the film seems dictated by the contrasts between Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), the real pleasure lies in how each functions as a three dimensional character, not hindered by convention or cliche.

In the end, they are linked by a distinct understanding of each other, best on display when Cristina tells a fascinated Vicky and her indifferent yuppie fiance about a tryst with Spaniard artists Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz).  Men are either oblivious or inept throughout the film (except for the great narration by Christopher Evan Welch), and Allen makes sure to highlight this gender alienation, favoring the struggle and complexity of his female characters. This motif echoes the best films by Pedro Almodovar and Allen must have had the Spanish master in mind when casting Bardem and Cruz in these meaty roles. Vicky Cristina Barcelona floats through the light Spanish air with a sense of longing and solace, pushing toward an inevitable lineage of momentary adventure, stifling romance, and heart-numbing dread.


4 thoughts on “Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Allen, 2008)

  1. “Heart-numbing dread”? Maybe we saw different movies here, Matt. What I finally got from VCB was the sense of its characters, particularly those played by Rebecca and Scarlett, never being able to be remotely satisfied with what they had (a long-time theme of Mr. Allen, whether intentional or not) that renders the movie and its characters rather shallow but awfully human (and VERY of the West in this time of me, me, me! Oh, you? Maybe later, dear.).

  2. Jim – To me, that last shot of the women walking out through the airport on their way back to NYC, settling with the reality that it might not get better than this, elicited “heart-numbing dread”, albeit on the inside and very subtly. Allen’s ability to let the screenplay develop these wonderfully conflicted characters without antics or neurotic dialogue, crossed with the exciting but ultimately fleeting experience of living outside of yourself, definitely creates a sense of longing and solace that could be infinite for these characters, ex: Patricia Clarkson. I actually think these are some of Allen’s least shallow characters in a long while.
    – Glenn

  3. Sorry I called you Matt last time. Mixing you up with another blogger, though your sites are SO different.

    OK. Maybe the way we’re reading this film has more to do with age than anything else. .For someone younger, I suppose this could feel like heart-numbing dread. To us oldsters, there is a definite sense that settling with reality is simply the way life is finally handled. Like it or not.

    And we do agree that this is Allen’s best in a long while.

  4. Pingback: Vicky Christina Barcelona « Blurasis

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