‘Vicki Cristina Barcelona’ is smart, engaging

Woody Allen’s newest film, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” is, for the most part, a splendid, sensuous m

“Life is short and dull and full of pain,” says Javier Bardem’s Juan Antonio after he introduces himself to a pair of young, attractive American women sitting across the room at a Barcelona restaurant.

They are Vicki (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina, played by Scarlett Johansson. Of the two, Cristina is the more adventurous. Vicki, engaged to a financial bore whose passion is golf, is shocked by Juan Antonio’s blunt invitation to fly to Oviedo and spend the weekend making love. Threesome, twosome. They will see.

They are characters in Woody Allen’s newest film, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and for most of the way, it’s a splendid, sensuous meditation on sexual freedom, romance and romantic disillusionment. It is most certainly Allen’s finest offering since “Match Point,” and an indication that, even into his seventies, Allen still is in possession of his creative juices.

Love and creativity

Allen takes advantage of Barcelona’s intoxicating charm as he renders his narrative, which can also be appreciated as a variation on the theme of romantic ardor and its effect on creativity. Allen takes time to display interludes where, for instance, lovers sit around on a warm night listening to strains of classical guitar.

’Vicki Cristina Barcelona’


STARRING Rebecca Hall, Scarlet Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson and Chris Messina


RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

Vicky and Cristina do travel to Oviedo and, as it turns out, it is Vicki who is seduced by Juan Antonio’s casual charm. He not only unlocks some undiscovered passion within but alerts her to deeper yearnings she cannot shake off. At the very least, she will be a better lover for her fiancé. It is doubtful that he will do more than appreciate the difference.

The lingering question the movie invites us to ask is whether being married to a nice, loving guy is enough for Vicki, or for anyone else, once she discovers a different kind of romance.

It is Cristina who takes up with Juan Antonio, but not long after they are settled in a cozy love nest, Maria Elena shows up. Played with a fiery, erratic passion by Penelope Cruz, she is Juan Antonio’s ex-wife; soon, the three are living together as friends and then as lovers. In this variation on sex and romance, you can tell Allen is presenting us with one more alternative. We will see just how long Cristina can endure and enjoy this arrangement.

You get the idea that Juan Antonio’s and Maria Elena’s love and creative spirit cannot flourish without the presence of a third party.

Evoking the spirit of Truffaut, Allen employs a narrator to speed along the action. Usually, this choice denotes laziness, but here it is not as intrusive as one might imagine.

The real find here is Hall, an English actress who is convincingly American, and with her halting diction, very much in the tradition of Allen heroines Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is smart, engaging and provocative. It may not answer questions about love, sex and romance, but in a neat, compact manner, it poses them in an often alluring context.

Categories: Life and Arts

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