The Vermont Cynic

Woody Allen’s new film leaves New York, hits the bull’s-eye

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Dir. Woody Allen

(The Weinstein Company)

4 Stars

Bull’s eye. Wood Allen hit the mark with “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” a film about two American girls who take a trip to Spain and fall in love with freethinking Spanish artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem).

The plot remains traditional in Allen’s obsession with sex and a refreshing usage of neurotic dialogue, but experimental in its filmmaking technique.

The two girls (Vicky and Cristina, of course) end up falling on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to love. Where Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is more the conservative type and is engaged to your average corporate square, Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is a sexually adventurous young intellectual who yearns to be an artist.

Finally, a love triangle that doesn’t make us yawn with predictable twists and turns!

While both women take an interest in Antonio, matters are complicated when Antonio’s psychotic ex-wife, María (Penelope Cruz) emerges on the scene.

Allen doesn’t forget to give us the comic relief that we expect from him. In this film, that relief comes from Cruz’s performance.

Her character is unflinchingly self-assured, to the level where one will laugh at her character’s absurdity, then pause in contemplation. At one point she admits to going through Cristina’s things out of pure distrust. Cruz is refreshingly honest and imaginatively eccentric in her role.

The film feels like an indulgence, as it is exceedingly pleasing to the eye. Beautiful shots of Spanish architecture by Gaudi are cut with some of the steamiest sex scenes you have ever seen in a Woody Allen film.

For this, Allen uses a more intimate close-up view with new cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe. Heavy breathing between Bardem and Johansson on the kitchen floor will have the audience gripping their seats in silence.

However, one passionate kiss in a dark room that will probably soon be played in slow-mo on high-definition flat screens across America is the kiss between Cruz and Johansson.

The narration in the film is questionable. While it certainly reminds viewers that they are indeed watching a film made by Woody Allen, it takes away from the kind of European romanticism that Allen seems to be shooting for, giving the film some sort of alienating punctuation.

However, the developed acting – especially believable toward the second half – and consuming plot twists allow the viewer to pay the faux-pas voice-over no heed.

“Barcelona” is a masterful study in relationships in that it questions boundaries and a broader set of conventional morals that are accepted by society.

Antonio states, “María Elena used to say that only unfulfilled love can be romantic.” Instead of focusing on the dilemma of the artist’s work, this time Allen focuses on the interrelated effects that love has on the artists. It evokes the indelible question: when it comes to love, when are we ever fulfilled?

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Woody Allen’s new film leaves New York, hits the bull’s-eye