x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Festival film A return to form for Woody Allen with a light-as-air, fresh film that captures the vibrancy of its Catalan setting.

Cruz gives this film an energy so unexpected and welcome she simply steals the show.
Cruz gives this film an energy so unexpected and welcome she simply steals the show.

No review of Woody Allen's new film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, seems complete without mentioning the truly turgid fare he has trotted out in recent years and how this is a return to form. So, not to disappoint, I will do the same. A light-as-air, fresh film that captures the vibrancy of its Catalan setting, Vicky Cristina Barcelona sends both its female protagonists ? tense, soon-to-be-married Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and her easy-going, tortured artist best friend Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) ? on a summer trip to Spain, where they both fall for Javier Bardem, a painter. Bardem's introduction, featuring one of the most brazen lines in living memory, is a moment of comedy genius that, if uttered by any of Woody's New York characters, would seem tasteless. It is a complete counterpoint to the brooding intensity of his turn in No Country for Old Men, but with the same charisma. As the love triangle settles, it becomes a love square as Bardem's former lover Maria Elena, played by Penelope Cruz, comes back into the equation. Even for a film with considerable liveliness up to this point, Cruz gives it an energy so unexpected and welcome she simply steals the show. But while Cruz and her tormented, vengeful lover are the abiding memory of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the emotional core of the film is found in one simple, devastating moment featuring Vicky's relative, stuck in a loveless marriage she cannot leave. In only one minute, the ever-reliable Patricia Clarkson packs a stunning emotional punch. In the end, the film benefits considerably from not having, as is his habit, "a Woody Allen character". Although his neuroses are largely embodied by Vicky, there are recognisable Woody-isms throughout most of the leading characters. And how surprising it was to see the director of Manhattan associate everything that is bad with New York. While he has not fallen out of love entirely with his home city (his next film is set in Brooklyn), part of me was still upset to see that Barcelona, as vibrant and energetic as he depicts it, is clearly the new New York.