Monday, 22 November 2010

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I wanted to see Vicky Cristina Barcelona when it was first released in British Theatres two years ago, although I have found some of its Director Woody Allen previous work infantile or silly rather than engaging or funny. I adore Penélope Cruz whose performance in the film won major awards, and love the City of Barcelona which I have visited during three holidays in Northern Spain. The film was on release with a number of potential other award making films and for some reason, now unremembered, I failed to view. Seeing that it was currently being shown on the Sky Indie channel I booked the slot and gave the showing my undivided attention, richly rewarded.

Two long standing friends with contrasting personalities decide to accept an invitation to spend the summer with a distant relative in Barcelona. Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall, is finishing her Master’s degree thesis on Catalan Identity, although it is not explained why someone who is described as conventional in outlook and behaviour should chose such a subject as she speaks little Spanish and the nuances within Spanish history and culture are usually of no interest without connections to the Peninsular. Her academic interest provides Allen with the opportunity to film the works of Guardi and present something of Barcelona living, although in general he fails to show the contemporary nature of Spain’s second city which on first contact has vast acres of apartments, many attractively designed, was a successful Olympic city with sport, its football stadium and Bull fighting ring dominating, and a political mindset which makes the region independent of Madrid’s former Catholic Fascism and recent times Basques extremism. I guess this is not the fault of the Director but from civic pressure as the local government funded 10% of the production costs and may have been specific about the view of the city they wished to portray.

My standard criticism of Allen’s characters in this film, as I am of many film created characters, is that they appear absorbed in themselves and in relationships separate from the contemporary political and economic environment of the society in which they function. The characters are therefore less than they might be in real life. This is an Almodovar looking film but lacks the key ingredient of all Almodovar’s work where the Civil War and the decades of Franco’s Fascism bubbles just below the surface. However this did not detract from my enjoyment or from the truths which unfold.

Vicky is engaged about to be married to a conventional educated confident ex fraternity middle class American, an attractive good man but safe and boring. He is ideally what she wanted of a man and a marital future which again does not fit in with the interest in Catalan Identity. It is a good device though.

Scarlett Johansson has just ended the latest in a continuous line of failed relationships in which she seeks excitement, spontaneity and someone to satisfy her inability to express her emotions through artistic creation. The couple with whom they are spending the summer are tuned into Barcelona life with their yacht, knowledge of places to eat and drink and cultural entertainment, including an art gallery where Cristina is immediately drawn to the artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo(Javier Bardem) who is the main topic of scandal because his wife stabbed him in what had been known to have been a volcanic relationship.

When they see him later at a restaurant Vicky is horrified that Cristina appears interested and this turns to disbelief when he visits their table, complements their attractiveness and desirability and invites them to go for a weekend of sex at the Spanish City of Oviedo travelling in a small plane of a friend and within the hour. Naturally Vicky expresses her disapproval of the man, the offer and of her friend when Cristina expresses willingness. Emphasising that she is just going along for the ride (joke) she accompanies her friend on the understanding that they will have separate rooms.

Just when Cristina is about to be seduced by Juan Antonio she becomes sick from drinking too much wine and is ill in bed for twenty four hours. This is sufficient time for Juan Antonio to take Vicky out for a meal, listen to some Spanish guitar music and make passionate love to her despite her fiancée having phoned with the suggestion that he joins her in Spain, they should have a register wedding before a full family do as originally planned later in the year. When he arrives he notices an edge to their love making he has not experienced with her before. They marry and appear to be starting to live happy ever after.

Unaware of what has happened, Cristina commences an affair with Juan Antonio on return to Barcelona and moves in with him. She also starts to express herself through digital photography which Antonio encourages.

Then what as been a visually engaging and light hearted film takes off as Juan Antonio is summoned to a hospital where his ex wife has taken an overdose and on return he brings her with him. Penélope Cruz plays Marie Elena with an exciting passion which is immediately believable and commanding my attention. Her reaction to Cristina is hostile, but not from jealousy but a feeling that she is not right for her ex husband and tells Cristina in English when pressed to speak the language by Antonio that she has not yet decided whether to kill her. They soon settle into a ménage- á- trois although it remains primarily a marital relationship between Juan Antonio and Cristina there are brief experiences between Juan Antonio and his former wife and between Cristina and Marie Elena who becomes a close friend as Marie rates the phototrophic work of Cristina, persuades her to buy a conventional camera and to develop her own photographs.

The idyll is brief. Previously Vicky has persuaded her new husband to accept a dinner date with Juan Antonio and Cristina in preference to an outing on the yacht with their hosts and Vicky misinterprets when Juan Antonio plays footy by mistake. He explains that he is committed to Cristina. However Cristina becomes restless proving that Marie Elena was correct in her initial response and leaves to try and find what she is looking for over the Border in France.

Juan Antonio and Marie Elena understand that they cannot effectively live without each other but nor can they live with each other and their relationship becomes difficult again especially when Cristina leaves

Vicky has admitted to her female host that she is disappointed with the marriage relationship with Doug, her new husband. Having got what she wanted she is then unsure if it is what she wanted. Judy, the host confides that she has also been unhappy in her marriage and sees Vicky as a young version of herself and helps to bring Vicky and Juan Antonio together and just when it they are about to have sex again, Marie Elena arrives with a gun saying she wants to kill herself and in stopping her doing this the gun is accidentally fired and wounds Vicky in the hand. She tells her husband a cover story which he readily believes. The incident makes Vicky realise she is not temperamentally suited for a long term relationship with Juan Antonio and reconciles to a life with Doug. Cristina return from her brief unsuccessful visit to France and learns for the first time about the relationship between Vicky and Juan Antonio. The three Americans return home as the summer ends exactly as before.

There was controversy in Spain and Catalonia in particular when it was found that the City government had contributed 10% of the budget. The film became the most financially successful of all Directed and written by Woody Allen making over six times the budget, reward which the City administration shared together with the tourist publicity. Penélope gained several awards for her performance including best support actress at the Oscar’s and Bafta’s and the film also won a Golden Globe and appeared in many top ten lists for the year.

I share in this admiration because there is credibility an insight throughout and the humour is natural and restrained. It is a film which I will enjoy view again.

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