Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: lightweight lifestyle



When passing through Lisbon in 1980 I watched a Woody Allen double feature: Manhattan and Annie Hall. They were English language with Portuguese sub-titles. It was a packed crowd of mainly locals. My frequent loud laughs led the chorus, with the locals following about a second later as they read the jokes. Sometimes Woody's unique humour was lost in translation leaving just a few of us chortling away.

I had a similar experience in Boston later that year during Flying High (Airplane in the USA). A large Saturday night audience didn't respond to some of the jokes poking fun at American culture. I must have been the only Aussie in the theatre. My laughter certainly stood out in the Massachusetts crowd.

The same couldn't have happened with Allen's latest film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It was a very disappointing film for old Woody fans. Lightweight lifestyle. Nevertheless, the three people with me enjoyed it as did a number of the audience judging by some of the belly laughs.

Javier Bardem as the rakish painter, Juan Antonio Gonzalo, just wasn't degenerate enough. His roles since his academy award winning performance in No Country for Old Men have been very soft. Brunette Rebecca Hall was the best of the cast as Vicky, the girl next door with the requisite freckles. Blonde Scarlett Johansson was typecast as the adventurous Cristina. You don't have to guess which one had the playboy figure.

The narration by Christopher Evan Welch seemed completely unnecessary, adding nothing to our understanding of the plot or the issues raised. Perhaps that had a lot to do with the movie's total lack of depth in exploring contemporary society. As social satire it was neither funny, scathing nor challenging.

The music was catchy but used too predictably, very fitting to a romantic comedy.

Loved the exterior scenes of Barcelona and Oviedo. The sharp photography made for a visual pleasure. In contrast Whit Stillman's 1994 Barcelona had that and much more. It is a much better film, being both comic and incisive. Typical is this exchange:
Fred: Maybe you can clarify something for me. Since I've been, you know, waiting for the fleet to show up, I've read a lot, and...
Ted: Really?
Fred: And one of the things that keeps popping up is this about "subtext." Plays, novels, songs - they all have a "subtext," which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that's right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what's above the subtext?
Woody Allen was once the sub-text king. Now we have to settle for the open and obvious. His films have always been better when he starred in them. You could hear his voice repeatedly from the main characters.

IMBd’s memorable quotes might explain the dialogue’s shortcomings:
Juan Antonio: Maria Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic.
.........................................................
[repeated line]
Juan Antonio: Speak English!
.........................................................
Cristina: I'll go to your room, but you'll have to seduce me.
.........................................................
Juan Antonio: We are meant for each other and not meant for each other. It's a contradiction.
.........................................................
Maria Elena: You're still searching for me in every woman.
Juan Antonio: That is not true, Maria Elena. I was in Oviedo some weeks ago with a woman who was the antithesis of you. An American, and something beautiful happened with her. So you're mistaken.
Maria Elena: You'll always seek to duplicate what we had. You know it.
Even the sex scenes with the ménage à trois were boring, made-for-television stuff. Penelope Cruz as Maria Elena, the ex-wife with Latin hot-temper, was unconvincing but she had little to work with.

Many cinema goers will enjoy Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It is quality light entertainment but heavily forgettable.



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