Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Movie Review

Watched Woody Allen's 2008 movie 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' - a movie about two friends - Vicky (Rebecca Hall)  and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson)  who go to Barcelona one summer. They are very alike except in the matters of love - Vicky likes all things planned and structured and Cristina likes the wild and adventurous. So Vicky has a steady, well-educated fiance who has a high paying job that involves clubs and golf etc while Cristina is waiting for that big adventurous romance.

In Barcelona (which is shown beautifully) the girls stay with Judy and Mark, Vicky's distant relatives. Trouble begins when the girls see Juan Antonio at an art exhibition, someone who makes Cristina gape openly in admiration at his good looks. Judy reveals that the delectable Italian hunk is an artist who is just recovering from his messy marriage with his wife, Maria Elena. In a subsequent meeting in a restaurant Juan Antonio comes over to the two girls and invites them to a weekend away from Barcelona, to Oviedo. Vicky is shocked as he proposes that they eat, drink, make merry and possibly sleep together. Cristina finds the idea interesting and agrees. Vicky hates Juan and his assumption that they will sleep with anyone but tags along to protect Cristina.

Juan is pretty direct and at the end of the day asks the girls if they would like to go to bed. Vicky excuses herself, Cristina goes. While the charmer is seducing her in his room, Cristina falls sick with food poisoning and is advised bed rest. The straight and self righteous Vicky is now stuck with Juan who shows her around and even takes her to meet his poet father. Vicky slows falls for his charm and the inevitable happens in the countryside. But Juan is clear - she has her fiance so she must go back to him while he will pursue Cristina. And after they return to Barcelona Juan and Cristina end up as lovers. Vicky's boyfriend flies over for a wedding, which Vicky is not sure of now that she has experienced Juan, but she ends up marrying anyway. Juan has not called her since that night. Cristina moves into Juan's home.

Enter the best part of the movie apart from the locations, Penelope Cruz as Marie Elena, as the haranguing, tempestuous ex-wife of Juan, someone he cannot stop talking about. Marie Elena has tried to commit suicide so Juan brings her to his home. It is funny to see how Marie Elena, an artist who has influenced Juan's style even, a genius in her own words, first tries to understand this new woman who shes thinks is not right for her ex-husband. But slowly all three get to like one another and Marie Elena helps Cristina discover herself through her photography. I liked that part where the capricious Penelope shifts from suspicion to pure mentorship of a talent she feels exists in Cristina. Marie sets up a darkroom, teaches techniques to Cristina and in between all this creative work the three become lovers. Cristina becomes the missing ingredient in the couple's love life and they, her creative fountain.

Eventually Cristina wants to go back to America because this is not what she wants. Vicky and her husband also return. But not before Vicky meets Juan again for another fling. The crazy Marie who had left Juan again after Cristina's exit, returns at that exact moment, starts shooting and in the melee injures Vicky slightly. Vicky quickly realises that this is not for her either. When Vicky later confides in Cristina about Juan and her, Cristina says she would have helped if she had known. Anyway everyone goes back to their lives, richer and wiser for the experiences in Barcelona.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a real treat to watch with its exquisite locales. The story moves in a style that is entirely Woody Allen's with a narrator telling us stuff about the characters and their dilemmas. The areas he picks are so well written and acted that they come out with all their flavours - of honesty, of real feelings, of transience and of acceptance of pain, pleasure, gain and eventual loss. Love is for the brave certainly and only one who has the courage to experience pain can court love. The relationship between Juan, Cristina and Marie Elena is beautiful just as it is crazy. Three people sharing one another and in a very honest manner helping one another grow and enjoying the warmth and beauty of a stable relationship! The actors made it all look so credible.

Penelope Cruz is outstanding. Similarly Vicky's dilemma is all too real and complex - we know with Vicky's in our world that it happens all the time- but we never seem to show it just right. Somehow Woody Allen gets into those grey spaces and brings it out wonderfully. Both Rebecca Hall and Sacrlett Johansson really fit the parts, just as Javier Bardem as Juan. I loved the casting, the music and the story. A very good romantic drama (there is not enough comedy as in other Woody Allen movies) and whatever made me laugh was the ridiculous honesty in the situations. A very well, tightly made, highly enjoyable movie. A must watch for all who like romances and drama and a treatment that is light hearted yet poignant.

I'd rate it **** stars, the extra half star for the way it goes into those grey areas - and gets out of them as well.         

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