Director Appreciation Week 1 Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

In many ways this is a very different Woody Allen film. The rest of his European movies tend to find comfort in a nostalgic past that is difficult to pinpoint, but is represented best in the elegant archaic structures of the locations; whilst Vicky Cristina Barcelona feels extremely modern. In this earlier work (compared to the others reviewed), the city actually plays much less of a central role. Sometimes it jumps to the forefront, but for the most part it is the role of love in a modern world that dominates this movie. At the centre of this is Juan Antonio, the Spanish charmer who has a very different outlook on love to Rebecca Hall’s conservative, no-nonsense Vicky. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) on the other hand is more than happy to take the ride that Juan Antonio promises. There is also the question of his unstable ex-wife, Maria Elena (played in a towering performance by Penelope Cruz), whose shadow looms large over the entire film. It’s a strangely structured movie, with even two bizarre subplots thrown in. It’s understandable in a way, considering the approach of Allen, who is clearly aiming for a natural evolution over this summer that feels more real than most romantic dramas. So emotions change, people come and go, and yet it still does feel slightly jarring. Also, the decisions and motivations of Vicky on paper may appear natural but in reality come across as quite forced. Overall though the movie is constantly engaging, with the four leads all digging deep and finding some of their best work, in particular Penelope Cruz who appears midway through and steals the film in a juicy role. Fortunately unlike much of modern Allen it’s also not so predictable. There’s so many factors to consider that the ending is really anyone’s guess. To some it may seem that, whilst it’s understandable that the audience may not know how the director is going to wrap up so many loose threads, perhaps Allen himself should have had a stronger grasp on the finale. In reality though, the final moments are a perfect conclusion to a movie so obsessed with the meaning and reality of love. Vicky, who was so sure at the beginning, and Cristina, who was looking for something more, are both left with a sinking feeling of dissatisfaction, one that seems out of the blue, but in reality one that all involved knew was going to happen all along.

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