Sunday, November 2, 2008

Woody Allen's Enchanting Spanish Caper

The movie starts with two American friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) going to Barcelona for the summer. They stay at Vicky's friend Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband's home. On a visit to an art gallery they see Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem); Cristina is interested and enquires whether he is the artist. Judy narrates a story about how Juan Antonio and his wife had a tempestuous divorce, and the wife tried to kill him. Later at dinner in a restaurant, Vicky and Cristina see Juan Antonio with his friends. Juan Antonio notices them as well, walks over to them and his first words after introductions are "I like to invite you both to spend the weekend, we will eat well, drink good wine, we will make Love". Pat comes the reply to Vicky's question "Who exactly is going to make love" --- "Hopefully the three of us".

Viewers/Readers familiar with Woody Allen's history may be tempted to roll their eyes and mutter "There he goes again, that near pedophile". However, a witty and inspired script, excellent chemistry between actors, and imaginative direction soon overcome any misgivings. Indeed "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" marks a comeback for Allen, and is his best movie in a long time. Almost in the category of his early classics "Love and Death", "Annie Hall", "Hannah and her Sisters"; this movie continues his inimitable exploration into unfulfilled relationships.

Vicky & Cristina fly away with Juan Antonio for the weekend. The practical, level-headed & already engaged Vicky ensures the girls are in one room and he is in another. After a lot of wine, the more adventurous Cristina goes to Juan Antonio's bedroom, but suddenly gets an attack of food poisoning and has to be hospitalized. Vicky & Juan Antonio are thrown together, they do some sight-seeing and visit his father. Juan Antonio tells her about the complicated relationship with his ex-wife. At the end of a romantic evening with wine and Spanish Guitar music, she succumbs to his charms.

They all come back to Barcelona, Vicky keeps her dalliance a secret from Cristina. Over time Juan Antonio and Cristina get involved and start living together. Vicky's fiance' Doug also shows up in Barcelona, and has plans for a romantic hurried wedding. Meanwhile, Maria Elena (Juan Antonio's ex-wife) has some trouble in her life, and moves in with Juan Antonio and Cristina.

Please see this delightful movie to find out what happens next.

"Only unfulfilled love can be romantic", Maria Elena's wise words could sum up this movie. Indeed, Woody Allen has always specialized in exploring the many paths within relationships; especially relationships that initially flower but over time come asunder. This movie sheds light on some unexplored or partially explored paths such as menage' a trois (threesomes), and unfaithfulness. Controversial and delicate subjects like these could easily be mishandled by lesser directors, but Allen employing an unusually funny script keeps us highly entertained. Never do we feel that we are watching some sleazy endeavor, even the much celebrated make-out scene between Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz is tastefully enacted. He also uses a voice-over to periodically explain and embellish scenes, I personally liked it and found that it enriched the movie experience.

The acting is brilliant all around, with Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall being outstanding. Cruz is a firm favorite for supporting actress Oscar; she spices up this movie with an electric performance of a slightly crazy and violent, yet perceptive and talented artist. Her character has many different shades from vulnerability to taking charge, nurturing to breaking up a relationship, friendliness to possessive violence, understanding and exhibiting an artist's temperament; she essays all these effortlessly.

Rebecca Hall is a great discovery, she delivers an intelligent performance that begins with a crisp and sure demeanor. As the movie progresses, she marvellously displays subtle cracks in this sure-footedness and is at ease portraying hesitation, self-doubt and indecisiveness.

Scarlett Johansson has a great working relationship with Woody Allen (Scoop, Match Point), and she is very much at ease with the initial flighty and easily impressed character. Later she often has to react to Cruz taking charge, which she does competently; but this may be a reason for her effort not being on par with the other three.

After an Oscar winning performance as a scary, psychotic, hit-man in "No Country For Old Men", Javier Bardem excels as a romantic, charming, confident Spanish artist. He leaves no doubt about his star power with a performance that nonchalantly seduces the viewer. The icing on the cake is his later expression of self-doubt and insecurity, hallmarks of Woody Allen male characters.

Adding to the appeal of this movie, are the picturesque locations and the wonderful cinematography. Scenes like sailing on the serene Mediterranean, bicycling through and picnicking in the enchanting Spanish countryside, alluring Barcelona locations, background fireworks; suggest a Madison avenue hand at work. The cinematography certainly enhances the romantic appeal of the movie, and is probably worthy of an Oscar as well.

Woody Allen has a different location (Barcelona instead of New York) and a younger set of characters (Bardem instead of himself); but has not lost his unique entertaining way of telling a slightly melancholy tale.


couchpapaya said...

oh thank god for the bardem not himself bit!!! just saw the trailer, looks great ... and really loved the review. as a bit of a coincidence i have match point coming to me next on my dvd queue, was wishing this one was already out i cld have had an allen-esque weekend :D

samir said...

Match Point is a good movie, you should hopefully enjoy it. I personally thought this one (VCB) was better; the script, acting, cinematography & direction is superlative.
You will love Bardem in this movie, he is really talented.
After watching this movie, my wife & daughter wanted to go Barcelona on vacation. Hmmm, I wonder what they meant by that (LOL).
Thanks for liking the review.

avdi said...

I adore Woody - even his lesser acclaimed movies, but regret have not seen enough of him.

Someday I will own a collection - Sigh !

Excellent review Samir..

samir said...

Ava :
I too like Woody Allen; and I must seen a fair # of his movies. The best (of the ones I have seen) are Annie Hall, Love & Death, Hannah & her Sisters, VCB, Match Point. I still have to see Manhattan, Radio Days, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Zelig & Broadway Danny Rose.
The collection idea sounds great.
My personal favorite is Annie Hall followed by Love & Death, and Hannah & her Sisters.

Mama - Mia said...

sounds like a super movie!! i havent watched too many movies of his either, but have loved whatever I have! be it him acting or directing! :)

will defi catch this one soon!!



samir said...

Thanks for dropping in and the nice comment. This is a great movie, do see it if you get the chance.
Woody's direction is superb, and makes this movie a most enjoyable experience. Even though it contains mature topics, they are handled in such a unique funny way that this movie can be seen with say teenagers.
I saw this one with my teenage daughter & wife, and they both loved it.

avdi said...

Samir, I saw Everyone Says I love you and Hollywood Endings which were his 'lesser' movies, but totally fundoo - as I found them. I have seen scraps of others, and will soon see Scoop.

My nephew is currently downloading Annie Hall..

samir said...

Ava , I have not seen those two, but have seen Scoop & Annie Hall.
Annie Hall is his best in my opinion, Scoop is good too.
Enjoy your Woody Allen movies.