From the quirky mind of Woody Allen comes the romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, set and filmed almost entirely in Spain with a soundtrack composed of light Flamenco ballads. Much like tasting premium wine, taking a stroll through a botanical garden on a sunny afternoon or savoring a serving of very fine chocolate, the film delivers a delightful and highly sensual experience likely to stay with its audience long after the credits have finished rolling. Although inquisitive in nature, the work poses far more questions than it bothers to answer – and manages to get away with this thanks to Allen’s refined yet witty direction.
American tourists Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) arrive in Barcelona, portrayed with postcard-like charm as the Spanish city of romance, on a summer vacation. While having dinner at a local restaurant one day, the pair are approached by Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem), a renowned painter and socialite, who wastes no time in inviting both of them to join him on a weekend getaway to the city of Oviedo, on Spain’s northern coast, where he is going to see a sculpture. Right away, Cristina’s interest in piqued by Juan Antonio’s offer to show them around the city, “eat well, drink good wine and make love”; at first incredulous, then taken aback, Vicky eventually gives in and the trio fly to Oviedo in a small private plane Juan Antonio has borrowed from his friend.
As promised, upon their arrival, Juan Antonio takes Vicky and Cristina out for lunch, then shows them around Oviedo and ends the day with wine and risque conversation back at their hotel. While Vicky categorically dismisses his advances citing her engagement, Cristina seems more open to experimentation, but all Juan Antonio gets is a kiss as she suddenly doesn’t feel well just when they are about to start making out. In the course of the next few days and weeks, Juan Antonio shares with Vicky and Cristina intimate details of his failed marriage to Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), introduces Vicky to his poet father, takes Cristina wine tasting and – thanks to his wit and charisma – manages to hopelessly enamor both of them.
Although at one point Vicky does briefly give in to the power of passion, she quickly recovers her composure, returns to New York and follows through with her marriage plans – yet Juan Antonio never quite leaves her mind. Cristina, meanwhile, stays in Barcelona with Juan Antonio, indulges herself in photography and gets to meet the painter’s artist friends. Embracing her newfound free-thinking lifestyle, Cristina enjoys a carefree existence until Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena shows up completely wrecked on his doorstep. Naturally, this results in tension developing between the kindhearted English-speaking Cristina and the pushier Spanish-speaking Maria Elena which is not diffused until later in the film when the two find commonality in their shared appreciation of photography and art. The result is a happy manage-a-trois in which Cristina acts as the calming force that keeps the dangerous artistic passions of Juan Antonio and Maria Elena in check, making it possible for them to revive their relationship.
A meticulously choreographed exercise in intelligent filmmaking, a flavorful celebration of Spain and its culture, a one-of-a-kind work that dares to challenge society’s perception of sexual norms without being overly offensive – the film manages to be all of these things, making it one of the best and most unusual American productions in recent memory.
With the tastefully eloquent Vicky Christina Barcelona, Woody Allen has established himself as a true auteur whose work is characterized by classy sophistication, polished production values and above all a highly unique and engaging narrative style. Masterfully directed and exquisitely shot, the film is easy to recommend to anyone looking for a quality cinematic experience, and is an obvious must-see for those enamored with Spain, Woody Allen’s direction or one or more of the beautiful main leads.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Scarlett Johansson (Cristina), Javier Bardem (Juan Antonio Gonzalo)
Genre: Drama | Romance
Runtime: 96 mins | Country: Spain/US | Language: English/Spanish/Catalan