Vicky Christina Barcelona is a movie that could only be set in Barcelona. And although it does not capture the physicality of the city, by giving us deep focus placement shots of Paseo de La Gracia, La Sagrada Familia or Parque Guell, it does capture the psyche behind the city. Do not let this misguide you the famous places are there, but Woody Allen weaves them into his story in such a way that they all happen naturally rather than being forced as must-see locations. It is not uncommon for Woody Allen to set his films in European cities, and here he demonstrates knowledge and insight about the culture that has allowed him to survive in the market. Mind that two of the main characters, Vicky and Christina, are actually Americans visiting Barcelona and we see most of the events through their eyes. It is not the true Barcelona but the fantasy Barcelona in which we fantasize about having an adventure in.
An early narration summarizes the main characters quickly: Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is a stability-oriented woman engaged to a successful man in New York; Christina (Scarlett Johansson) is an adventurous woman that does not mind the emotional downside to quick lustful encounters. They are best friends and spending a summer in Barcelona before Vicky’s wedding; each one believes her view on love is the right way to look at the ardent subject. While having dinner at a local restaurant local artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), takes a liking in the girls and makes both ladies an offer. He invites them to spend a weekend in Oviedo look at the local color and if all goes according to plan, all three of them will make love.
What is fascinating about this film, and is something only a filmmaker like Allen can achieve, is that the relationships of all the characters seem natural and almost logical. Juan Antonio’s offer is sincere and so is the reaction of both Vicky and Christina to his offer. The events that follow, including the arrival of Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), seem just as natural. Movies usually like to offer intricate love triangles but in doing so they fail to notice how the simple love between two people can be much more complicated and interesting to explore. Vicky Christina Barcelona shows not a love triangle but something more like a love pretzel; yet every character seems to be a missing part of every other character’s psyche which only makes it much more intimate. Maria Elena reminds us: “only unfulfilled love can be romantic”. This makes sense because if love were fulfilled then there would be no pursuit. What would a romantic comedy, or tragedy, be without the pursuit of an unfulfilled love? Pointless that’s what it would be. “I’ll go to your room,” Christina tells Juan Antonio, “but you’ll have to seduce me”.
To bring up such honesty in the characters requires not only a director like Woody Allen, but also brilliant performances from the actors with whom he writes his poetry. The entire main cast delivers excellent performance in the spot. Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall, and Javier Bardem have all received Golden Globe nominations for their roles. I can say they all deserve them, though I feel leaving Scarlett Johansson out is a mistake. This is a film where the acting works through teamwork and chemistry. Penelope Cruz’ portrayal of a psycho ex-wife, is nothing less than a jewel. Easily the most memorable character in a film where all characters is memorable. And guys, you will wish you had the “cojones” of Juan Antonio, not only to be able to pick up two girls at the same time, but to find a creative way to deal with an ex-wife whom you are still in love with and wants to shoot you, your new girlfriend and herself.
So if you are a lover of Woody Allen films, or simply down to watch something genuinely smart and intimately interesting, Vicky Christina Barcelona is the film to watch this weekend. Even if you’re just down for a good romantic comedy, though this is not one, you will enjoy.