Sunday, October 12, 2008

Movie Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen's latest film is a sensuous examination of youth, travel, and the allure of dangerous, passionate love. Though Allen is 72 years old now, he's still very much attuned to the restless spirit of the young American twenty-somethings navigating their way through the Catlalan capital. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" isn't the work of an elder statesman; rather it's the exuberant work of a man not nearly finished living a searching, artistic life.

Sure, the dialogue might not be as sharp as Allen's best work (or even Whit Stillman's "Barcelona"), but the film is still wonderful. Rebecca Hall (as Vicky) is the moral center of the story, an soon-to-be-married academic with a buttoned-down approach to relationships. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is a free-spirit with a "bring it on" approach to life. They meet an abstract painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who quickly invites both to join him in a far-away Spanish town for art, wine, and three-way sex. Vicky is repulsed. Cristina is intrigued.

Add a mentally unstable ex-wife to the mix (Penelope Cruz) and the young American girls experience the ride of a lifetime. That's all I'll reveal about the plot.

Cruz is absolutely stunning; she'll likely receive an Oscar nomination for her role as a tortured, suicidal/homicidal genius. Bardem is the quintessential Spanish lothario: hyper-masculine, yet sensitive in a way that only European men can be. It's difficult to believe any woman could resist his advances. Hall ostensibly plays the role of Woody Allen; an intellectual nebbish drawn to life's pleasures, yet simultaneously frightened by them. She preaches temperance as a virtue, but she's not quite sure she believes her own sermon. She's fantastic, with one of the film's best sequences, a wordless exposition of the travails of dressing for a date. Only Johansson seems out of her element; while she's certainly young and ripe; she can't yet own a scene like Penelope Cruz. She still seems like an ingenue plucked from the street, not a fully developed, richly layered actress.

Is the unlived life worth living? Should our only regret be living a life without risk? This is a movie that asks the big questions of life, with one of the world's most exquisite cities as backdrop. Gaudi's architecture. Spanish guitar. A beautiful cast. What's not to love?

1 comment:

johnNokc said...

I saw Penélope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar's 2007 movie, Volver. She garnered an Oscar nomination in this movie as Best Actress. Cruz reminds me of Sophia Loren, i.e., an exceptionally beautiful woman who can also act. Btw, if you haven't seen Almodóvar's 2004 flick, Bad Education, take a look. Another winner, at least in my book.