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9 October 2008

Chalk Cheese Wine

I do like a bit of Woody Allen--I loved Match Point the first time I saw it, although Jonathan "Henry VIII 2.0" Rhys Meyers grated a little when I watched it again on DVD, and Manhattan and, to some extent, Annie Hall, were sharp and entertaining--although I don't think I'd ever be keen on a Woody Allen all-nighter, say. He spins an interesting yarn but it's so often the same yarn and more than one of his films in the same sitting would be a bit much, I feel.

On a whim, I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, about which I remembered reading quite a lot earlier in the year, even if I couldn't remember whether I liked what I had read. I certainly liked what I saw--not least because it's only about the third funny movie I've seen all year, out of 49. Since Match Point, Allen hasn't got over his Scarlett Johansson fetish (can you blame him?) although he does seem to have lost his ability to punctuate (admittedly, Vicky Cristina Barcelona looks better when the three names are arranged one below the other on a big screen). And yes, it's hella pretentious, often too clever for its own good and often firmly up its own arse but it's a Woody Allen film so anyone expecting something different really ought to know better.

So, the eponymous Vicky and Cristina are best buddies spending the summer in the eponymous Barcelona. It is unclear why Cristina's name is spelled in the Spanish way. Vicky is a slim, sensible brunette and Cristina is a sexy, spontaneous blonde (i.e. the same character Johansson plays in every other movie she makes, apart from The Other Boleyn Girl, and look how dire that was!)--they are Opposites you see. Lest the audience try to work this out for themselves, the narrator (whose voice is so similar to Woody Allen's, I assumed it was Allen himself) summarises their differences (in a way not dissimilar to the opening of every single Sweet Valley High book, where the ghost writers always bored their readers to death with the description of how the twins were so alike on the outside, yet so very different underneath).

Vicky is Sensible. She has brown hair and a fiance back in New York, whom she is going to marry when she gets back to America in the fall. He is supposedly attractive, steady, and a banker who seems prematurely middle-aged in his love of playing golf with men twice his age--in other words, he is boring as hell but she Loves Him Very Much (theme #1 of the movie being The Differences Between Loving Someone and Being in Love with Them). She has come to Barcelona to work on the thesis for her master's in Catalan culture and luckily, her ex pat family friends agree to put her and her errant friend Cristina up in their palatial home for the summer (culture clashing and the idea of V and C being the perfect ex pats who embrace the Spanish culture and truly desire to become European, as opposed to their hosts, V's fiance and all of the other Americans in the film).

Cristina is a Dreamer. She is reckless and impulsive and doesn't know what she wants--only what she doesn't want (to be like Vicky). She enjoys wild, unpredictable relationships and while she isn't opposed to the idea of settling down with someone, she doesn't think she'll ever meet the right person. She doesn't have a reason for coming to Barcelona and so just hangs out, taking photos, a lot of the time.

One night, at a gallery event, their hostess points out a hot, wild painter, Juan Antonio, to them--he has a bit of a bad rep (violent relationship with his ex-wife), despite his talent and naturally Cristina falls for him. He chats them both up simultaneously later that night, in a bar, by asking them to fly to another town with him in his private jet so they can eat in nice restaurants, see an awesome statue, drink some wine and make love. Naturally, Vicky is repulsed and Cristina loves the idea but it wouldn't have been much of a film if Vicky had got her way, so she goes along, grudgingly, completely convinced that it is a ridiculous idea. But--oh noes!--Cristina gets food poisoning on the first night and so Vicky and Juan Antonio have to hang out together but (quelle surprise) despite the fact that they have nothing in common, the opposites certainly do attract and by the end of the weekend, Vicky's calls from The Fiance become more and and more of a chore.

However, Vicky never tells Cristina any of this and it's Cristina who ends up moving in with Juan Antonio, causing Vicky much private heartache (especially when The Fiance flies out to Spain so they can get married in Barcelona--"how cool would that be, babe?" he sez). All is not what it seems, though, when Maria-Elena, Juan Antonio's crazy ex-wife arrives at his house one night--played by a fantastically scary and nutty, yet passionate and funny Penelope Cruz, Maria-Elena steals all the scenes in the second half of the film (poor Scarlett; maybe Penelope is Woody's new muse).

Throughout, there is plenty of scope for deep and/or amusing discussions on the nature of art and love, of seizing the day and missed opportunities, of experimentation and regret, of commitment and of living life to the fullest. The whole thing is punctuated by the sometimes clunkily worded and overly helpful (though often funny) comments from the narrator, which framed the piece quite well. I did LOL frequently (not as much as the rest of the oh-so-American audience) but there were some more thoughtful moments too, although not for long enough to allow things to become all maudlin and soppy. 

Overall, VCB gets a pretty high rating from moi. Perhaps I was distracted by the trailer for Clive's new film, The International--when I saw Clive, as a secret agent in New York, I assumed it was Duplicity, the movie I saw being filmed but it turns out that to save effort on his part, he just chose to shoot to similar roles at approximately the same time. Ah well--double the screen time so I can't complain!


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