17 August 2008 | johnpetersca
Woody Allen New and Fresh at 72
Principled monogamists may not like this film. Not only does it show its primary characters in relationships with multiple partners but, with one exception, they are quite open with each other about it. Allen suggests both that romantic happiness is best achieved with more than one person and that it is necessarily ephemeral (I wonder what his young wife, Soon-Yi Previn, thinks). He says in a Los Angeles Times interview with Rachel Abramowitz that Vicky Cristina Barcelona is, ultimately, "a very sad film."
If so, it may be the brightest sad film ever made. All of the actors are at their best and make immediate connections with the audience. With the exception of an unnecessary voice-over narration (in which Gaudí is mispronounced with stress on the initial syllable), the self-conscious affectations that haunt some of Allen's films are absent. Fine actors are allowed to speak for themselves. According to the Abramowitz interview, Allen "never talked to the actors, other than to give them stage directions." The resulting feel is often one of brilliant improvisation.
The complex romantic relationships among its four primary characters are what the movie's mostly about and I won't spoil it by going into them. Patricia Clarkson, however, deserves mention for her role as Judy Nash, the middle-aged wife of an American couple who are friends of Vicky's parents and with whom solid Vicky and impetuous Cristina stay in Barcelona (though Cristina soon moves in with the charismatic artist, Juan Antonio). Judy is married to a dull but steady man, somewhat similar to the man that Vicky is about to wed. Vicky confides to Judy about her uncharacteristic fling with Juan Antonio. Judy advises Vicky to reap her passion while she can and arranges another meeting between the two. All of this is low-keyed and entirely believable.
As the movie's title suggests, it's about Barcelona as well as Vicky and Cristina. There are many outdoor shots of the city, especially of Gaudí's Park Güell. They amount to more than a minor travelogue because structures that are usually photographed in isolation appear with everyday crowds of people. Like Bruges in the movie In Bruges, the city is more than scenic background. Though never mentioned explicitly, Barcelona's anarchist past bubbles to the surface.