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poster - Vicki Cristina BarcelonaFilm Review

by Chad Menville

published August 15, 2008


Vicky Cristina Barcelona

rated PG-13

now playing nationwide


"Life is short, life is dull, life is full of pain, and this is a chance for something special." This bold advance is the pick-up line used by local charismatic Spanish painter, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) on a couple of American tourists, the engaged Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and impulsive Cristina (Scarlet Johannson). It works like a charm, setting into motion not one but two overlapping love triangles, the second of which involves Juan Antonio's suicidal (and homicidal) ex-wife Maria Elena (played by Penelope Cruz in her most volatile and captivating role).


As Woody Allen's fourth consecutive film produced across The Pond, it is a good deal more artful than its recent predecessors, with his cast possessing an all-around greater range and depth. Especially in Vicky's case, it's a matter of thought vs. feeling that is the major dilemma here. Although not new territory for a director, Allen nevertheless makes certain that, in this case, the cast enchants throughout.


The only exception is the narrator, whom is neither the director nor one of the on-screen actors. This is Allen breaking from his usual M.O. When the youthful, erudite-sounding narrator Christopher Evan Welch intones: "Vicky had no tolerance for pain and no lust for combat," and Cristina was "resigned to putting her feelings at risk," it is a fairly astute observation, yet one the audience would have no doubt soon discovered on their own.


Perhaps naïve of me, but the handful of acquaintances I have mentioned this film to have been quick to fold their arms and wrinkle up their nose. There is a huge contingent of Woody Allen infidels out there and no one can convince them of his merits. They refuse even to see his films in which he does not appear. I can remember when sixteen years ago amid the fallout surrounding the very public news of his break with Mia Farrow, Allen was out for a stroll in his neighborhood with an Esquire journalist, when a fan stopped to ask, "Are you the great Woody Allen?" Allen replied, "I used to be." If only his detractors would be so good humored. No wonder each of his projects are guarded with such a high degree of secrecy.  


Measured against his other films, Vicky Cristina Barcelona surely gets an 8 (out of 10). It is every bit as good as Radio Days and probably as strong as Sweet and Lowdown. Stylistically, it is less manic and more progressive than his former efforts, with a grace that has been absent from much of his work of the past decade. For some people, the money shot is the female on female kiss, but for me the real eye-opener is the burning question: "Is a whim a chance or a mistake?" You decide.


chadmenville @


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