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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Woody Allen may be a septuagenarian, but his imagination, not to mention libido, is firmly planted in his younger, randier days. The prolific writer/director’s latest offering is stuffed full of infidelity, feminine restlessness, and lust disguised as romance. There’s even a smattering of bisexuality thrown in for good measure. Art and Love are intermingled and discussed as if shamefully separated at birth and now, finally reunited. Allen keeps himself out of his sensual adventure, but can be heard streaming from the characters’ mouths like a never-ending intellectual debate.

Americans (and BFFs) Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), visit Barcelona for the summer, staying with gracious and extremely well-heeled hosts Mark (Kevin Dunn) and Judy Nash (Patricia Clarkson). Vicky is engaged, with her life mapped out as if it came with its own GPS system. Cristina is ready for adventure and will not settle for any facet of ordinary existence.

Enter Juan Antonio Gonzalez, an artist whose direct proposition of a sexy weekend in a tiny town that he himself will fly them to. This excites Cristina, but raises red flags in Vicky’s mind. Cristina wins and the trio spends a few days in Oviedo where, surprisingly, it is Vicky who develops a yearning for her romantic host, although Cristina is smitten as well. Back in Barcelona, Vicky’s fiancé Jim (Chris Messina) arrives, transporting her back to a regulated life full of conventional behavior. Cristina has transported herself into Juan Antonio’s home and writes poetry in his kitchen when they are not making spontaneous, passionate, paint-smeared love there.

Juan Antonio remains involved with his fiery ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), who possesses both homicidal and suicidal tendencies. Tantrums are commonplace and alternately attract and repel the normally placid Juan Antonio. She’s a talented artist in her own right, smokes seductively and lapses into militant Spanish when asked to speak English.

The threesome coexists uneasily until Maria Elena and Cristina become friends and progress into a French term right from Allen’s libido. (ménage à trois). Cristina tries on her bi-curious coverall like the latest fad. Meanwhile Vicky grows conflicted and feels restricted by her betrothal, still mooning over Juan Antonio, -who feels attraction for Cristina, but has an outright obsession for Maria Elena, -who provides the spice that the other women seem to lack; she’s angry passion, intertwined with lucid observations and wild proclamations, at once tormented and irresistible.

Privileged and extremely wealthy lifestyles are showcased as if they routinely occur as a rite of passage. As usual, in Allen’s films, everyone has already arrived, and they’ll show you gladly how they live. No talk of bills or mortgage here, just the latest real estate acquisitions and yacht adventures. Dozens of Americans can relate.

Juan Antonio’s father is an unpublished poet on principle: the world does not know how to love, and thus does not deserve his great works. He too does not hurt for money even though he has no visible means of support.

Hosts Judy and Mark live grandly and suffer through infidelity as well. Seems every woman in the film is afflicted with “grass is greener” syndrome, something that apparently can be fixed by taking on lovers. Each discovers through this process more what she doesn’t want than what she does. The search it seems is continual and according to Allen, perfectly natural. His first name, after all is itself a sexual slang term, and quite possibly, a preferred state of being.

Director/screenwriter Woody Allen departs from favorite New York City haunts but still worships at the church of Johansson. Here they finally seem comfortable with each other. With a running time of 96 minutes, the film sails by on scenery, character motivation, discovery and experimentation. Periodic narration from an unidentified matter of fact male voice makes statements and clarifies motives, although Allen’s characters make them apparent.

Allen features the city’s architecture, and Gaudi’s modernist style is referred to occasionally to pound the magnificence into our provincial skulls. The cinematography is a love letter in itself, with even scenes from an informal walk in a rather ordinary part of town looking good enough to qualify as a postcard that serves the purpose of engendering envy in its recipient.

Javier Bardem is finally allowed a decent haircut and the license to be sexy. He requires no further enticement, purring his lines with a heavy-lidded, seductive gaze. English actress Rebecca Hall plays American like a pro, coveting conspicuous consumption while pretending that it doesn’t matter. Scarlett Johansson is all lips, bosom and compliance, able to be surprised and seduced believably. Penélope Cruz is like an habanero pepper dropped into a bowl of oatmeal: instant fire delivering the viewer an added incentive to pay attention.

Lively and intelligent, Vicky Cristina Barcelona gives us Allen’s insight into his primary ménage à trois, this time comprised of two women and the city that changed their perspective, questioned their beliefs and rocked their assumptions about fulfillment.

And to think he was just going for a humorous sex romp. Shows you what can happen when relevance gets in the way.