FILM REVIEW: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Continuing his professional sabbatical from his once beloved Big Apple, cinema’s busiest septuagenarian, Allen Konigsberg (that’s Woody Allen to you and I) delivers a zesty and picturesque summer diversion with the surprisingly fiery Spanish postcard, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
FILM REVIEW: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Continuing his professional sabbatical from his once beloved Big Apple, cinema’s busiest septuagenarian, Allen Konigsberg (that’s Woody Allen to you and I) delivers a zesty and picturesque summer diversion with the surprisingly fiery Spanish postcard, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. In recent years, Allen’s career has trod the steady decline into virtual obscurity (his 2007 outing, Cassandra’s Dream, even failing to secure a theatrical release locally), but, as with 2005’s popular Match Point, the filmmaker’s latest, a breezy account of two mismatched best friends’ romantic entanglements whilst holidaying in the titular vista, should see him drawing a crowd again. Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson (making her third appearance in an Allen film) are Vicky and Cristina, Americans abroad for a summer of sightseeing in an exotic and faraway land. Vicky, engaged to be married to a stable if unromantic businessman (Chris Messina), is sensible, driven and monogamous, while the free-spirited Cristina is governed entirely by her passions and wild, impetuous flights of fancy. When the unlikely duo encounter a Latino lothario, the philandering artist Juan Antonio (velvet-tongued Javier Bardem), relationships alter like the shifting of sands as the two friends both fall for the same man. This is the sort of film Allen could onetime produce in his sleep – witty, wordy and effortlessly enjoyable – but, amidst his recent history of let-downs and non-starters, Vicky Cristina Barcelona makes for a refreshingly frothy maintaining of face" it’s eminently entertaining if not exactly trailblazing. With its omniscient narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) peering matter-of-factly down his nose at the sexually frolicsome goings-on, Allen imbues the film with the air of an aestival novella: light, satisfying, and ably digested in a single, pleasant sitting. Its eponymous leads make an engagingly odd couple, with Hall (appropriately, given Vicky’s penchant for overly verbose might-as-well-be-soliloquies) displaying an uncanny similitude to the tics and mannerisms of her oft-lampooned director, and Johansson working hard to find the restless soul of her underwritten wannabe bohemian. But it’s the surprise entrant to proceedings who truly sets the film alight, a tempestuous fireball whose appearance shakes the viewer from any mid-way dip in interest: Penélope Cruz as the fierce-hearted Maria Elena, failed suicidalist and great love/former wife of Juan Antonio. Cruz (along with Bardem, to equally impressive if less fervid extent) turns a role rife with the potential for overblown cartoon characterisation into the film’s flame-eyed and furious ace in the hole" she might not here feel as lived-in as she did in Volver, but as far as support turns go, it’s up there with the most memorable of the year. If only Allen’s remarkable prolificness (he still manages a film per year) could be consistently matched by output of this calibre. In fact, oddly, for the former realist-romantic, the sole real regret that’s attached to this piquant zinger is a niggling feeling of glum philosophical resign: play it straight and levelheaded, Allen’s coda would seem to suggest, or live by your impulses, it’s all the same – at the end of the day, when it comes to matters of the heart, not one of us can hope to claim true fulfillment. Maybe it’s a cynicism born of old age or the byproduct of a dwindling reputation, but such a sentiment from the creator of Annie Hall? Whatever happened to “Most of us need the eggs”? DIRECTOR: Woody Allen SCREENWRITER: Woody Allen CAST: Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Dunn RATING: M RUN TIME: 96 minutes This review was first published on http://celluloidtongue.blogspot.com

Gerard Elson

Tuesday 13 January, 2009

About the author

Gerard Elson is a Melbourne-based writer. He occasionally blogs at http://celluloidtongue.wordpress.com.