Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sex – and Love – y La Ciudad

After decades spent telling classic New York City-set stories of love, neurosis, and relationships (and how they relate to one another), Woody Allen decided to explore other locales for inspiration, arriving in London to set his Match Point, Scoop, and Cassandra’s Dream.

The results were uneven.

Match Point re-invigorated Allen’s status as one of America’s most interesting directors, but his follow-ups failed to connect with critics and/or audiences.

His latest film, the Spanish-set Vicky Cristina Barcelona, is an inspired one about love and sex (neurosis has been replaced by passionate temporary insanity). It tells the story of two American tourists spending the summer in the titular city. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is tightly wound, pragmatic, and engaged to be married to a dull fellow back in New York, while Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is more of a free-spirit, go-with-the-flow kind of gal.

While in Barcelona, they encounter tall, dark, and handsome Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a charmer who sweeps them off their feet for a loverly weekend in Oviedo, with one of the most phenomenal, effective, and ballsy pick-up lines I ever heard.

The three embark on an adventure (Vicky is quite reluctant at first, though), one that changes their summer plans, if not their lives forever. That is in theory, at least.

They forged connections that will immediately and eventually rear their sexy heads at the most inopportune times. It is as if they are ingredients for another’s lives, but it’s isn’t until Penélope Cruz, as Juan Antonio’s unstable, fire-cracking, alluring ex-wife, that Vicky Cristina Barcelona stirs its plot pot to achieve a delicious result.

The two Americans are at a crossroads by the end of the film. They’re scared, and I’m sure they’re wondering what’s it all about. You’re just going to have to watch to find out what they decide.

Love is a many splendored thing, and in this film, it’s a person’s desire, their fate, and their undoing. Allen delivers an honest look at this, shows us people do settle for love, or are restless for it. And we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we.

I really enjoyed Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and not just because I’ve interviewed Bardem (for The Sea Inside) and co-star Patricia Clarkson (for Married Life) – that’s just gravy. This film has style – it’s beautifully photographed – and substance, and that’s simply too irresistible a combination.

My Rating ***1/2

Photo: The Weinstein Company.

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