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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » April 29, 2009
Film review
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Vicky Cristina Barcelona
April 29, 2009 By Witold Żygulski   
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Woody Allen has finally warmed up to traveling, at least to Europe. Or perhaps he is just bored with New York City? Either way, starting with Match Point in 2005, he has been making a new movie in Britain each year. In 2006 he made Scoop, and followed up with Cassandra’s Dream a year later. This time, especially for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen chose the Catalonian capital over London.

He candidly admits in interviews that money played a major part in this decision, because scenting a good PR opportunity, the Barcelona authorities offered to contribute 1 million euros to the production and then raised the stake to 2 million. That was enough to prompt 74-year-old Allen to quickly rewrite his own script from years ago and adapt it to a Catalonian setting. Originally, the movie was to be set in San Francisco, but instead of the Golden Gate bridge, Allen’s latest offering boasts delightful shots of the Sagrada Familia, the Guell Park and the Casa Mila.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona tells the story of two young American women who travel together as a living proof that opposites attract, at least when it comes to choosing one’s summer vacation companion. Vicky (Rebecca Hall—Frost/Nixon, The Prestige) is reserved and level-headed, eschewing spontaneity from her life. She is about to get married to a man for whom self-indulgent romanticism is as alien as it is to her. Cristina (Scarlett Johansson—Lost in Translation, The Girl with a Pearl Earring), on the other hand, is something of a wild extrovert and has a hard time deciding what she really wants in life. She has just ended a toxic relationship and all she wants to do now is have a good time. An opportunity presents itself when the girls meet an artist named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem—Love in the Times of Cholera, Goya’s Ghosts). They first see him at an exhibition and then run into him in a Barcelona restaurant. Without any further ado, Juan Antonio invites the girls to fly with him for a weekend to Oviedo where he offers to show them around the city—“And we’ll eat well. We’ll drink good wine. We’ll make love.” When Vicky asks who would be making love to who, Juan Antonio smiles and says that hopefully, the three of them together. It is easy to guess which of the girls likes the proposal more, but perhaps Allen has one of his signature surprises in store?

Through Juan Antonio, the two Americans meet another fascinating figure. Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz—Volver, Vanilla Sky) is Juan Antonio’s ex-wife who, like him, is very emancipated sexually. But the problem is that she is dangerous to her partners, and in a fit of uncontrolled anger, she will not hesitate to use a knife or a gun.

The movie benefits a great deal from the acting. Bardem, whose role as the psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men by the Coen brothers won him an Academy Award, feels much more at home playing a Spanish lover. But no matter how good Bardem is, Cruz steals the show hands down with her Maria Elena, epitomizing uncontrolled passion in the best Pedro Almodovar style. No wonder that Cruz took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
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