Even as Woody Allen edges into his 70’s, his cynicism is as evident as ever. His thoughts on the reality of love and passion are hauntingly accurate, especially in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The voiced narration throughout the film is straightforward, unwavering and void of any emotional attachment. We rarely see optimism in Woody Allen’s stories, but the closing line of this film may explain why: he is certain only of what he doesn’t want.
Vicky (Hall) is a detail-oriented, responsible Masters student about to be married; Cristina (Johannson), her best friend, is a free-spirited art type searching for her own interpretation of perfection in love. They go to Barcelona for the summer and meet Juan Antonio (Bardem), a smooth, passionate artist who convincingly assures the girls that there is no such thing as dull or meaningless sex (at least with him). We are then introduced to Maria Elena (Cruz) who is a gorgeous but unstable, fervent but intriguing, Latin artist who is also Juan Antonio’s ex-wife. The plot is simple and revolves around the lives of these characters for the summer while they find love, question their previous misconceptions of love and experience new forms of passion.
First off, I loved the Spanish architecture in the film, which Allen really paid homage to well. I also particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Vicky and her fiance, Doug. The narrator quotes something along the lines of, “Doug was decent, and successful, and Vicky was going to marry him.” Realistically, I think an overwhelming number of people marry partners who are similar and who they get along well with, but the passion is simply missing. Maybe couples think this is the best strategy, since it is inevitable that, over time, the psychological stages of love start off with passion and then slowly turn into companionship. People unconsciously believe that if you’re going to reach the companionship stage eventually, why not skip the passion altogether?
Another related point made in the film, was that “Only unfulfilled love can be romantic.” Again, if love has been fulfilled (whether it be through marriage or long term cohabitation), it seems as though romance and passion disappears, as is evident with Maria Elena (Cruz) and Juan Antonio (Bardem). Cristina (Johannson), who acted as the salt, or “missing ingredient” in their relationship kept the love unfulfilled and thus made the gears of love work together smoothly.
It is clear from films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Volver that Cruz’s best acting is done when she is able to speak her native tongue. At least half her dialogue is in Spanish and she does a fabulous job in the role of the crazy but sensual ex-wife of Bardem, who also pulled off the womanizing Latin artist character almost seamlessly. I like Johannson’s character, but she always seems to play the same type of roles in Allen’s films and I must say it is getting a bit old.
Overall, the film was entertaining and realistic although rather short. The clear-cut dialogue was typical Woody Allen, which of course I loved, and the acting by Bardem and Cruz was beyond impressive. The movie may not have had an edge of your seat storyline, but it was passionate pessimism at its best. Well done, Mr. Allen.