Bring on the sunshine

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Starring: Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Rachel Hall, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Woody Allen
Running time: 96 minutes
Language: English/Spanish

IF THREE months of a Bratislava winter were not enough to make you want to head straight to the airport and fly somewhere warm, sunny and at the very least not littered with piles of dirty snow then this, the latest Woody Allen film, will do.

Set in the constant, hazy sunshine of a Barcelona summer, all the lead characters are impossibly good-looking. They wear designer summer clothes - when they are wearing any clothes at all. They stay in plush hotels. They seem to spend their whole lives on holiday (one of them is notionally a student; two, possibly three, others are artists - though being an artist in Barcelona seems mainly to involve going on picnics). No-one pays for anything.

Ladykiller Juan Antonio (played by Javier Bardem), the one man in the film’s central love quadrangle, drives a gleaming 1970s Alfa Romeo convertible. A lovely model but, as anyone who has owned an Italian car of that vintage will attest, one that would normally require a team of mechanics just to keep it moving under its own power.

Not this one. As if it were not enough that Juan Antonio has three beautiful women lusting after him, he also appears to have landed the only 1970s Alfa more reliable than a Toyota. In other words, it’s complete fantasy.

But somehow – a testament to the acting and direction – it doesn’t matter. Even the chirpy American narrator, who pipes up occasionally to tell us how everyone’s feeling about everyone else, seems entirely in keeping with the pretence - rather than the theatrical cop-out he is.

You are sucked into the plot, and into caring about the characters, perhaps most surprisingly the strait-laced American, Vicky (Rachel Hall). When Spaniard Juan Antonio busts his move on both her and her friend, the coquettish Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), Rachel’s first instinct is to take sarcastic, puritanical offence.

But it is she who falls hardest and for the rest of the film - as Cristina’s relationship with Juan Antonio and his appealingly batty ex-wife María Elena (Penélope Cruz) unfolds – it is Rachel’s torn emotions we keep returning to, as it dawns on her that she is not quite so sure about the things she wants from life.

Foremost among these is her fiancé Doug (Chris Messina), a blowhard who works as a senior executive for US firm ‘Global Enterprises’ (but, in keeping with the conceit, is apparently still free to spend most of the summer lounging around in Spain) who turns up mid-film to crank up Vicky’s angst.
He is another intriguing character: at one and the same time cartoonish and yet instantly recognisable. There aren’t very many Cristinas or María Elenas out there, sad to say, but we’ve all met Doug before.

In fact American corporate types come off pretty badly – even Vicky and Cristina’s friends, an older US couple with a palatial Barcelona villa and a yacht, seem about as distant from the Spain of Juan Antonio as, well, Bratislava.

Since this is a Woody Allen film it’s not exactly spoiling the plot to reveal that nothing is resolved, and the characters seem destined for no less – and probably rather more - heartbreak ahead. The bittersweet finale is leavened with one of the best gags in what is already a funny film. This is vintage stuff.

The really sad thing is that if you’re tempted to take that flight now, Barcelona is probably the last place you’ll want to go, thronged as it will almost certainly be with tourists vainly seeking the ephemeral magic of Vicky and Cristina’s experience in each of the exquisite locations used for the film.

Note: some of the scenes between Bardem and Cruz are in Spanish, for which the version shown in Slovakia carries only Czech subtitles. So unless you read Czech or understand Spanish you will be left with the passion of Cruz’s performance (for which she was last month awarded a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) if not perfect comrehension.

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