I rarely go into Woody Allen films expecting something terrible, at the very worst one of his films will be wrought with existential wit and a swooning jazzy soundtrack. What is nice with Allen's films are the times when he offers something so much more, as is the case with Annie Hall or Midnight In Paris. While certainly not as prestigious as either of those films, Allen's 2008 offering Vicky Cristina Barcelona is quite enjoyable. It is a cinematic vision that takes on new understandings of love and seduction, both in terms of romance and friendship. However, as is often the case with any film by Allen the narrative delves into something much grander and more concerned with human existence, it is not blatantly obvious nor is it similar to every viewer, but despite the film involving a cast of incredibly attractive actors and being set in Spain it seems so common and accessible that you quickly forget that it was indeed directed by one of art house cinema's most beloved children. When you place this in Allen's entire body of work it is nice to see him making his way back into Hollywood movies with big budgets, without losing his keen sense of contradicting the traditional images of said films.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona, like so many of Allen's films, is multi-faceted. However, the main focus of the film is centered on the title characters the reserved Vicky (Rebecca Hall) who idolizes traditional love and conservative romantic values and the wiley Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) who seeks sporadic encounters and assumes romance to be a fleeting occurrence with little few positive outcomes. Vicky, who is set to be wed to Doug (Chris Messina) an average but likeable guy, agrees to go on vacation with Cristina to Spain for one last celebration as friends before she become married. It is during this lengthy vacation that the couple meets Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) a local painter who is infamous for his troubled marriage that procured near fatal results. Not one to mince words, Juan Antonio invites the girls to return with him to his hometown to sight-see and make love. Naturally, Vicky dismisses this offer in disgust, while Cristina swoons over ever one of Juan Antonio's words. Despite her demands against engaging in affairs with Juan Antonio, Cristina's demands win out and the trio takes a dangerous airplane ride to Juan Antonio's hometown. At this point in the narrative things become incredibly convoluted as Vicky accidentally falls for Juan Antonio in Cristina's absence. Realizing her mistake after Doug surprises her with a visit, Vicky detaches herself from Juan Antonio who has now taken a keen liking to Cristina. As Cristina and Juan Antonio's relationship evolves, another woman enters the picture Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) Juan Antonio's ex-wife for which he still has strong feelings. Their relationship evolves into some artistically inspired threesome, while Vicky comes to discover her own love for Doug. Ultimately, and explosively the film ends with both women finding themselves at the same place as the story began, however, this time they have accepted their ways as just, agreeing that their behaviors, while not suitable for everyone are perfectly acceptable as longs as they work for them.
I can say with certainty that Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Allen's most artistic work. Sure, he has dabbled in expressionism and surrealism throughout his career, but much to my surprise the melodrama that is Vicky Cristina Barcelona proves to be his most visually appealing. Perhaps this is because Allen's film is so clearly inspired by Spanish architecture. As the repeated images of Gaudi's work show, Allen is preoccupied with the unusual structures of the world that still appear to work. If one reflects on Midnight In Paris is is obvious that he is influenced by the work of French authors in the film, so it is no surprise that Vicky Cristina Barcelona borrows is narrative leanings from Spanish work. Each character in the film is arguably a reference back to the zany and winding work of Gaudi that still manages to stand without trouble. Vicky, while the most conservative character in the film, has her own crevices and secrets that would seem to cause her inevitable falter, but despite this she manages to hold to her own steadfastly and independently. Even Cristina, who appears to flourish off codependency, actually finds herself most fruitful when alone, although she finds out quite quickly that self-motivation is incredibly difficult when attempting to engage in artistic endeavors. Even Juan Antonio, who appears completely independent, displays twists and bumps that influence his being and despite thinking he has it made when engaged in a polygamist relationship come to understand that his life is solely involved on his own self perseverance. I would argue that Allen's ability to depict the tough yet resilient natures of human existence, on the backdrop of Guadi's work are precisely what make this his most artistic film to date. Of course, I could be reading way into the film, but I doubt Allen would mind that at all.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is quite easily one of the best bluray films I have seen to date. I would encourage purchasing a copy if you are a fan of Woody Allen films, but at the very least rent the film, it is well worth your time to watch.