Monday 9 March 2009
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen's latest film is a very enjoyable and and at times witty production. It is a long time since Allen has said anything new in his films and this one is another reprise of his deeply pessimistic take on the human condition. Short of anything new to say, Allen has recently gone for new locations, with previous films shot in London. This one, as the title suggests takes us to a very attractive and chic Barcelona with a brief and unnecessary diversion to Oviedo in Asturias. The cast are very good, though I cannot see why Penelope Cruz was singled out for awards. Not that she isn't good in the role of the scary ex wife, but just that the role does not demand a great deal in the way of committed acting. Lots of screaming and shouting, wearing some outrageous costumes and a little bit of pouting should not be beyond any half decent actress. Javier Bardem is good as the seductive, but sensitive artist. But I get the feeling he is going through the motions. On the other hand I thought the two main female leads, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson were excellent. Both put in very thoughtful performances. It helped of course that they had by far the best lines as they shared the neurotic Woody Allen character between them. This has happened before, in Melinda, Melinda, where it was the one female actress who played the two Melindas. Here Allen has used two different actresses to highlight different aspects of his neurotic pessimism.
Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall lacks the courage to expose herself to any risk that might hurt her, so she ends up accepting an unfulfilled life just to avoid any risk. While Scarlett Johansson's character, Cristina is willing to get stuck in as it were, but doesn't know what she wants out of life, she just knows what she doesn't like. So she is condemned to repeating the same cycle again and again. The film therefore ends more or less where it began, with Vicky and Cristina in an aeroplane, this time flying back to America. Life moves on and they go on. This is all very well up to a point. The sad thing about much of Allen's oeuvre is that so often, as here, there is no sense of personal development, of the enriching potential from engaging with others and experiencing something different. In Allen's dark world, even the rich experience of a summer in Barcelona is just a passing moment which leaves one unchanged.
An irritating feature of the film was the recurring use of an unseen and unknown narrator. Though the use of a narrator is not new in Allen's work, I found it particularly annoying here. In most of his work, Allen himself is the narrator and this works fine as we know whose voice it is that adds to the narrative flow. In other films, Melinda and Melinda for example, it is a group of people sitting at a table in a restaurant who act almost as a Greek chorus. Here it is simply a disembodied voice and a not very pleasant one at that. Most of the time his role is superfluous as we can see for ourselves how the characters develop or not.
Despite this minor irritation, this is a very enjoyable film. Not one of the master's best, but still a very fine piece of film making and it is always a pleasure to see Barcelona on film.