5 April 2003 | thenoholdsbard
A nerve-wracking picture about being American
Two nervous young American cousins stationed in Barcelona adapt to a world in which the privilege of being American offers little peace of mind, and where a dearth of evidence, sympathy and understanding prevents any moral or cultural justification of their own way of life.
The young men (one based on Stillman himself), find themselves living the lives of grown men -- doing the work of men, traveling, attracting and bedding grown, worldly women, but they are far from understanding the responsibility of mind and heart that goes along with it. Whit Stillman again chooses bland, thin young actors, MODELS on which to "hang" this movie, as though it were an expensive gown-- the same could be said of THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, and METROPOLITAN, his first film.
Keeping the camera always at a moderate, comfortable distance from the cast, he effectively prohibits the viewer from making any real connection with the characters -- leading many to write his movies off as "shallow." This technique robs the movie of some important emotion, but Stillman seems more interested in teaching than entertaining. He has another, alternate, and very possibly superior definition of "meat" in storytelling. Stillman resists the use of a bevy of seduction tools like over-editing, music, and "romance" -- a decision that leads, in the end, to a seductive style similar Italo Calvino's brash artlessness in storytelling.
Though the movie is full of "thoughts," the characters nevertheless find themselves REACTING their way, thoughtlessly, toward adulthood. It's torturous to watch these characters grope, solipsize and mis-calculate, but (we must decide eventually), one does not have to enjoy a film in order that it be excellent and instructive -- BARCELONA is.
Watching the film, one feels the frustration of everyone involved, from the writer/director to the key grip -- to me, commiserating with this immense, well-worded frustration/triumph seems a valuable way to spend 104 minutes, counting previews.