Vicky Cristina Barcelona

****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
"Probably Allen's sexiest flick to date."

You know how every half-decent new Woody Allen movie is sold as 'a return to form'? Well, this time it's pretty much true. No, it's not vintage Allen like Annie Hall or Manhattan (it's questionable if anything ever will be), but it's easily the writer/director's best since the underrated Match Point.

And, along with the fact that it's his fourth consecutive effort shot outside America, it's probably his sexiest flick to date. Don't worry, the usual neurotic analysis of relationships and their inner-workings is present as always (love = loss, melancholy and pain, yet its still worth it). However, the Latin vibe (aided by some beautiful scenery) is positively intoxicating and overwhelms almost everything else on screen.

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American girls Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) head to Barcelona for the summer, they meet a seductive artist named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). When he invites them for a weekend of food, sex and sight-seeing, the engaged and sensible Vicky is initially against the idea while the more impetuous Cristina is all for it. However, both girls eventually fall for him and things become more complicated when his fiery ex-wife Maria Elana (Penelope Cruz) arrives...

For a ‘comedy’ it’s not that funny – but it doesn’t try to be. Allen is more concerned with imparting the message that the only constant in terms of love is change. Most of the material is handled rather deftly, aside from Christopher Evan Welch’s informative-yet-ultimately-annoying voiceover. The word 'grating' comes to mind.

Interestingly, it also plays America vs Europe without ever seeming clichéd. On the one side we have dependency, security and the dull stability of marriage, on the other we’ve got artistic passions and emotions that result in boho threesomes. For those wondering, yes Scarlett does get it on with the former Mrs Tom Cruise.

Portraying the Americans, the said Miss Johansson (Woody’s current muse having worked together on both Match Point and Scoop) once again plays a soulful searcher up for a bit of how’s your father while the relatively-unknown Hall does well as the female version of Woody.

Undeniably though, it’s the Spaniards who steal the show. Bardem oozes charisma and gives lessons in seduction (a continent away from his awfully-haircutted killer in No Country For Old Men) while Penelope Cruz does the fiery Spanish lunatic better than anyone around. Statue-worthy anyone?

If you wanted to niggle, you could complain that Allen’s atypical affluent characters seem to live a life of jet-setting and luxury when they really don’t do that much. Juan Antonio is a painter, his father a poet who doesn’t publish (check out the size of his house!), Vicky’s a graduate and Cristina is a student filmmaker.

Still, when all is said and done it’s just nice to have the world’s most neurotic director back on form. Now, where’s next?

Reviewed on: 14 Jul 2009
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Vicky Cristina Barcelona packshot
Two young American girls on holiday in Barcelona become romantically involved with a Spanish painter.
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Read more Vicky Cristina Barcelona reviews:

Jeff Robson ***1/2

Festivals:

London 2008

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