Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

***1/2

 

If you don’t like Woody Allen movies, this is the movie for you!

Normally you can’t teach an old filmmaker new tricks, but – remarkably – “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” bares no resemblance to what we’ve come to expect from the veteran auteur. There’s no New York. No Jews. No jazz. No jokes. No allusions to obscure Swedish cinema.

Forty-something films into his brilliant career, I hoped that maybe Woody Allen had a few good flicks left in him (like the charming 2006 comedy “Scoop”), but I never imagined he would make a movie this surprising or interesting again.

It tells the story of two young American women traveling to Barcelona to spend the summer. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is conventional and a little uptight. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is lusty and adventurous.

One night they are approached by an alluring local artist named Juan (Javier Bardem) who boldly asks them – both of them – to come back to his place.

Though Juan doesn’t get exactly what he wants (sorry, guys), the suave Spaniard does make an impact on the lives of both women. It isn’t long before Cristina moves in with him.

The film goes from good to great when Juan’s fiery ex-wife Maria Helena (Penelope Cruz) suddenly arrives on the scene. The exchanges between Juan and Maria Helena are perfectly written and performed. Allen superbly captures the essence of a doomed relationship where the couple will clearly never get along but have so much chemistry that they can’t stay away.

In any other movie, Maria Helena’s appearance would have sparked an acrimonious love triangle. Instead, the divorcés and Cristina form a strange bohemian love partnership. It’s very unusual. Very European. And yet it develops organically and is actually believable.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is an exploration of passion and its role in the human condition. Allen observes that reticent people who overanalyze things run the risk of living regretful lives that are devoid of passion. Passionate people, meanwhile, usually end up in turbulent relationships that don’t offer any security.

Woody Allen’s conclusion is perfect in that it offers no conclusion at all. After all that they go through in Spain, both women aren’t any closer to finding themselves. They are emotionally adrift in a world that offers infinite possibilities for romance and excitement but no promise of peace or happiness.

The ending isn’t depressing, though. It is honest and wise and bittersweet. It comes from an old man who may never have found contentment in his youth, but enjoyed a great deal of pleasure while searching for it.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a smart, sexy, original film. It will absolutely change what you think about Woody Allen.

 

 

 

 

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