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Vicky Cristina Barcelona (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 110 minutes, including credits.

This is an odd title, but writer-director Woody Allen apparently wanted to put all his creative effort in the story and filming, so he just named it after Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) who take a trip to Barcelona.

Allen has created four disparate characters, all of whom have moral compasses that wobble, at best. Vicky seems solid and secure in what she believes and what she wants, which is marrying her fiancé, Doug (Chris Messina), and living the rest of her life with him. Cristina, on the other hand, is unformed, free-spirited, and unsure of who she is and what she wants.

Alas, they meet a man whose moral compass is completely missing, in terms of traditional moral values. Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) is an artist who has a reputation of having had a tempestuous relationship with his former wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz). Maria Elena is a woman of harsh temperament who has similar moral values to Juan Antonio, but a completely different personality. While Juan Antonio displays calmness and security, Maria Elena is, to put it mildly, volatile.

In this film, nobody gives much value to monogamy or fidelity or, even, heterosexuality. All the characters are driven by their sex drive. That said, I imagine that most heterosexual men would love to be Juan Antonio or at least have his confidence and sex appeal.

Ingratiatingly narrated by Christopher Evan Welch, we learn that Vicky and Cristina are visiting friends, Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and Mark (Kevin Dunn) Nash, whose marriage is not what it appears to Vicky and Cristina.

When Cristina sees Juan Antonio across a crowded room, she doesn’t fly to his side. But when they find themselves at separate tables in a restaurant later, he approaches the two of them with one of the best lines you’ll ever see in a movie. I don’t know how it would work in a real singles bar, but in the movie what Juan Antonio does is to make an honest proposition, which Cristina accepts, but which clearly offends Vicky, who disparages it.

From there Allen spins a story of passion with some really terrific dialogue as just about everyone gets involved with everyone else, but they are all so civilized about it! The dialogue is the best Allen has written in years, if not ever. How could one not admire a script that has one of the characters talk about her friend’s “turgid categorical imperative” without blinking an eye?

The acting is exceptionally good by everyone, but especially Hall and Bardem, for whom I would give Oscar® nominations. The cinematography (Javier Auirresarobe) of the beautiful locations in Barcelona adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of the film. Vicky and Cristina seem to go on sightseeing trips constantly, maybe a little too much for the story, but it never detracts. The scenes of gorgeous Barcelona are as titillating as the shots of Johansson. If Bardem is there for the women, Johansson and Cruz are delectable additions for the men.

Something has happened to Allen in the last few years. He had a string of such inedible turkeys that it looked as if it was all over for him. Then last year he came up with “Cassandra’s Dream,” set in London, which was miles above what he had been putting out there. Now he tops it with this. Maybe getting out of the States is a good thing for Woody.

While some might think that this glorifies libertine behavior, each of the characters ends up carrying some scars as a result of what they’ve done. Woody Allen is 72-years-old, and I don’t think he’s ever made a more entertaining movie.