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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

2009-02-16 16:21
Penelope Cruz

What it's about:

Two friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) head to the sunny climes of Spain for a holiday. They are polar opposites: Vicky is settled and structured while Cristina goes where the wind blows her and is unsettled in everything – especially love. The friends stay with Vicky's aunt Judy (Patricia Clarkson) in Barcelona – Vicky to study for her Masters and Cristina to soak up the culture – and while there, they meet an intriguing, brooding artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Willing to take a chance on anything, Cristina goes along freely with the stranger's proposition to go to a little town, Oviedo, to sightsee… and make love. Vicky goes along to "keep an eye on Cristina" and a tangled love quadrangle develops between Juan Antonio, Vicky, Cristina and… wait for it… Juan Antonio's manic ex-wife, María Elena (Penélope Cruz).

What we thought of it:

Director Woody Allen does a great job exploring the complexities of human relationships here, but fails to interpret it in the classic Woody Allen style we've come to expect from the movie maestro. The resulting movie is one which stretches for incisive critique but fails to hold the viewer's attention after the credits roll. And while the film is quirky, it is not particularly funny, even though it is billed as a comedy.

Allen has chosen a voice-over narrator's point of view to tell the story, but this gets annoying very quickly since it makes it difficult for the viewer to be completely enveloped in the story. It starts off as a seamless introduction to the characters, but as the film plays out, seems to substitute for creative thought and results in a haphazard way of stitching together an incomplete script.

Scarlett Johansson gives a mediocre performance as Cristina and comes off more confused than care-free. Rebecca Hall, too, seems more subdued than her character calls for. A captivating contrast to both these characters is the mysterious Juan Antonio. Javier Bardem portrays the wounded, love-starved Spaniard like a Latin dream and entrances the audience with his brooding on-screen presence.

The best thing about this movie, though, is undoubtedly Penélope Cruz as Juan Antonio's crazy ex-wife, María Elena. She is only introduced halfway through the movie and you begin to wonder how you survived so long without her vivacious presence. She brings the love story between herself and Juan Antonio to life in a breathtaking way, mingling frustration, hate, seething vengefulness and passion into one completely fanatically outrageous character. She makes you keep watching until the last tear has fallen and final insult is spat.

While certain elements to the narrative and vision for the movie could have been bettered, the story is a good one and the picturesque Spanish settings and bronzed cast go a long way to making this an enjoyable, amusing viewing experience.

After a shaky couple of years, Woody Allen recaptures his flair in this warm and entertaining look at modern relationships. Of course, his fantastically sexy cast are a plus too.

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