Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Director:  Woody Allen
Cast:  Rebecca HallScarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz
Plot:  Two girlfriends on a summer holiday in Spain become enamored with the same painter, unaware that his ex-wife, with whom he has a tempestuous relationship, is about to re-enter the picture.

Genre:  Drama / Romance / Comedy
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Supporting Actress.
Runtime:  96min
Rating:  M18 for mature thematic material involving sexuality, and smoking.

We are meant for each other and not meant for each other. It's a contradiction.

One of the most prolific directors of our time, and after more than three decades of making films, Woody Allen has stuck with his unique flair of potent screenwriting and effective directing for most of his career.

 Despite his films’ incapability to strike box-office gold, Allen’s writing-directing efforts have remarkably garnered him more than twenty Oscar nominations. The three-time Oscar winner is a master of the ‘dramedy’ genre, often creating insightful portraits of humanity that are intertwined with his favourite themes of love and death. 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Allen’s first film to be shot outside of the US and UK. The Catalan city of Spain provides the scenic backdrop to a complicated love story involving three women and a man. Played by a beautiful cast of Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem, the film dissects intimately and intelligently the issues of love, lust, marriage, and divorce. Allen’s witty script combines romantic flair and acute comicality that is effectively articulated by the cast. 

The finest performances of the quartet come from Hall and Cruz. Hall immerses very well into her role as a student with an active interest in Catalan culture; Cruz, whose raw energy and distinctive Spanish-English accent helped to liven the film, shows why she has been Pedro Almodovar’s favourite since the late 1990s.

Johansson, on the other hand, appears less enthusiastic and her acting credibility is beginning to look suspect (she shows no sign of improvement after The Other Boleyn Girl) despite her star factor. Bardem gives a mellow performance that is apt for his character though it is lacking in emotional substance.

The talk of the town is the sizzling hot smooch between Cruz and Johansson. Allen delivers the scene with a touch of eroticism as it is filmed in a cosy, dimly-lit ‘dark room’. Truth be told, the scene is less provocative than expected. In fact, the moment captures effectively the affection and increasing trust between these two characters who were initially at odds with each other.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona may not be Woody Allen at his incisive best, but he has made a motion picture that is as much of an ode to the vibrant Spanish culture as it is a brain stimulant. 

GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)

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