Sunday, February 22, 2009

Muriels: Best Picture, 14th Place

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (68 points/7 votes)

“Woody Allen went to London, and came back with two rather gloomy, pessimistic movies about fate and doom. He went to Barcelona, and - like Vicky and Cristina - he apparently got so intoxicated by the Spanish way of life that he made this lovely little distraction. Vicky Cristina Barcelona: the commaless title already sounds jaunty, and Allen's made a movie here that's light without being weightless, and that, by the very incidental nature of its plot, manages to make resonate more than his essays on destiny do.

“Most of all, though, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a great homage to one of my favorite films of all time: Jules et Jim. Granted, the analogies in basic plot are rather sketchy: both films may start from the same premise (Jules et Jim are two friends, one serious, one not, who fall for a beautiful, temperamental woman, Catherine; Vicky and Cristina are two friends, one serious, one not, who fall for a very sexy, temperamental artist, Juan Antonio), but after that the plots diverge significantly. It's the mood of the film though, the spirit, which immediately reminds you of the Truffaut film, and the narrator especially makes the connection hard to miss.

“Yes: that narration. Many people seem to have their problems with it, and on a surface level, I can understand that. It keeps you at a distance, after all, makes sure we remain observers and never become too deeply involved. However, it's too easy to yell something about movies being about showing, not telling, and to denounce the voice-over as a crutch: not only does the narrator dryly (and often humorously) save us all unnecessary exposition and get us right into the action, but - like the narrator in Jules et Jim - he makes us aware of how universal the story is, and how recognizable. He peels away the surface, and reveals that these characters are ust like us.

“Vicky, scared of trying anything that might compromise the future she imagines for herself, Cristina, who longs for passion and an artistic life, without knowing if she can ever be content: they offer polarly opposite views towards love, but I imagine everyone can identify at least a bit with both attitudes. They may be carefully crafted constructs, designed to illustrate a point rather than to be fully-rounded, ‘real’ characters, but Allen is a shrewd enough observer of humans and human interactions that the narrator's observations sometimes strike uncomfortably close to home. As for Juan Antonio and Maria Elena: they're meant as foils rather than characters in their own right, but Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz infuse them with so much warmth and passion you don't even notice how little we are told about their state of mind.

“Vicky and Cristina leave Barcelona. Changed - but too little to matter. It's admirable that Allen decided NOT to go for a grand, theatrical resolution (although he teases us with it) and dares to acknowledge that, sometimes, events that in the moment feel important and highly (melo-)dramatic can, in the end, be just like a summer in Spain: filled with sunlight and beautiful sights, wine-induced bliss and romantic entanglements, but ultimately just an interlude, a diversion. Postcards in a scrapbook, and a few bittersweet memories. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have tickets for Barcelona to book.” ~ Hedwig Van Driel

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