Netflix Update No. 26: “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

January 7, 2010

REBECCA HALL

We finally got around to watching “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which was a very successful film for Woody Allen in 2008. Besides making a lot of money – in proportion to its budget – the film won and was nominated for a ton of awards, including a best supporting actress Oscar for Penelope Cruz.

Allen pursues his interest in neurotic people, but in an unusual environment for him — some very attractive locations in Spain. The story involves two young American women — Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) — who get a chance to spend a summer in Spain in the home  of a distant relative of Vicky’s, played by Patricia Clarkson. Vicky, who is a bit prim and self-assured is engaged to marry a well-groomed go-getter. Cristina, who hasn’t been successful at relationships, tentatively plays at being a free spirit. Allen uses a narrator – Christopher Evan Welch – to describe in a documentary fashion the summer in Spain in which the lives of both women are thrown into disarray.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON

The agent for the turmoil is Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem), an artist whose relationship with his wife, Maria Elena (Cruz), was disrupted when she stabbed him in a characteristic fit of rage. Though it is disrupted, the relationship is not over — certainly not in Gonzalo’s mind or loins. Despite Vicky’s protestations, Cristina becomes involved with Gonzalo — in fact, moves in with him — after he unsuccessfully invites both women to join him in a menage. Vicky disapproves and says so, but by now — thanks to Gonzalo — she’s not nearly as sure of herself.

Things get very complicated even before Maria Elena reappears — with a flourish — to play a wholly unexpected part or two in turning things upside down.

JAVIER BARDEM

The credibility of this story hangs heavily on Gonzalo’s charm, and Bardem has it to spare. It’s an interesting combination of raw magnetism and sexual grace that plausibly could, on the one hand,  take advantage of Cristine’s confusion and, on the other hand, crumble Vicky’s moral fortifications, and — if there were a third hand — inspire Maria Elena’s capacity for both lust and murder.

As usual, when Allen is on his game, this film is well written, well directed, well cast, well photographed, and well acted.

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in a scene from "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

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