Monday, March 23, 2009

Barthelona, With Vicky And Crithtina

Late, or medium late Allen (Woody-type) is turning out to be a particularly sophisticated phase in the director's career. With 'Match Point' being a pretty potent version of 'Crime and Punishment' themes (I saw it in a small town in Sweden, and the audience was just as respectful as they would be for Bergman or Troell), 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', powered by its three starring muses, is a wonderful contribution to the cinema of the personal-level short story, told in layers.

Perhaps this picture stands out as particularly admirable because of its comparative rarity: character development is equal with story-telling. Even the scenery is secondary, though it is a welcome ornament. Many filmmakers today deliberately avoid getting too 'scenic' in location-shot films, as if they are too cool to stoop to mere situational grounding, as that would give too much clarity and suppress cleverness. 'Slumdog Millionaire' which is a remarkable film, nevertheless missed the boat as far as capturing Bombay is concerned, as most of its scenes could have been shot in any large Indian city.

But Barcelona is just too tempting to resist, and Woody provides just the right doses of locale to support his characters and story. And the characters! Predictably (and happily) you can depend on Woody's characters to be attractive - at least physically. Three of the most fetching women in pictures today are in it, and Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, and Penélope Cruz have never looked better. Plus, their craft ain't bad, either. But there's a flaw: not enough Cruz! Her role, Oscar-winner that it is, is comparatively brief. Almódovar knows how to use her (e.g. 'Volver'), and now, so does Woody, but more, baby, MORE!

As the sole and pivotal male in this ménage à quatres of sorts, Javier Bardem holds his own with Cruz, Hall and Johansson, and indeed, he might be considered the star of the picture.

More than ever, Allen is a true auteur - one of the few active in film today. As contemporary audiences have basically lost their way in appreciating auteur-authored films, Allen's audiences and box office and production deals have shrunk, but into a size that in no way inhibits his creativity, while in fact it is enhanced. He also wisely chose to go overseas for locations, into more inviting and sympathetic surroundings. (He's doing more London-based films.)

'VCB' need not be pigeonholed as 'a Woody Allen film'. It is an original work, and it leaves you with unique thoughts.


  1. the!bunny!is!Troy!March 26, 2009 at 6:30 AM

    Foodies for thoughties there, Port. Woody had usually left me cold when I skimmed across his work in the past, an understated overrating? Plus I suppose there's that 'lecherous old man' stigma to shake as well.

    Now that my cinematic eye has been emboldened somewhat these recent years it may do me well to scrap the prejudice (I did it for Polanski!) and take in the art for what it is; 'Sleeper' might be a good starting point.

  2. I hear ya, t!b!i!T! The perils of showbiz folk's personal deeds, in light of contradicting their creative work, are quandary-inducing at best. My rationale in W.A.'s case is that, if people of quality continued to work with him after his scandal, then there must be some element of trust beyond my knowledge that I'm willing to put into play. That is, if Diane Keaton or Scarlett Johansson trusts Woody on a personal level, I guess I can too, as a mere movie consumer. Corporate and political creeps hog most of my indignant attention these days, I'm afraid.

    'Sleeper' is a gem, as is 'Bananas'. And 'Take The Money And Run' is still hilarious, what with Woody attempting to play cello in a marching band and all..

    The case of Polanski always seems to come back to the seminal tragedy in his life - not necessarily the WWII experience, but the Sharon Tate murders, which would pervert anyone into a sort of madness. Indeed, Roman's survival through it all may not be wholly admirable so much as an example of trauma survived, but at a price. Of course bad behavior can be explained, but not excused.

    I think that Polanski's 'The Tenant' is as fine a psychological foray as prime David Lynch or Hitchcock or Cronenberg. I call it 'comfortable creepiness'.

  3. I can't get enough of Penelope, for me, since 'Vanilla Sky'.

  4. RE: 'Tenant' - I actually have that one in my bunny hutch - found it at a used shoppe just prior to it going OOP. Is good, is good - 'course when ya have The Master of Light Sven Nykvist on board, how can ya fail?

    (Uh oh, better not answer that - I also saw that docu on the making of Tarkovsky's swan song 'Offret' wherein during the devastatingly climactic scene the camera jammed & they didn't have the heart or guts to tell him - poor Andrei, also a man who truly suffered for his art)

    RE: Penelope - 'ey idiot, and don't forget about the original 'Abre los ojos' (I tend to detest scene-for-scene remakes i.e. 'Vanilla')

  5. Huge, lifelong Woody fan here. I liked "VCB" as a light, lovely tribute to Barcelona, and thought the Penelope part was just right. I can't fathom, however, the continued use of Scarlett J, whose acting skills are imperceptible. I did think Woody used her well in "Scoop" as a slightly ditsy student journalist, but as a femme fatale (here and in "Match Point"), she's strictly amateur-hour.