28 January 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

About a decade ago, I spied on my younger brother as he furtively watched and rewound Kate Winslet’s nude scene in Titanic, him repeating this process to the extent that said scene is now unwatchably fuzzy due to his pre-pubescent yearnings. It’s not especially hard to imagine him reliving the process with a scene from Woody Allen’s latest, as María-Elena (Penélope Cruz) strokes Cristina’s (Scarlett Johansson) apple-cheeked face with smouldering seduction in the velvety red hues of a photographic darkroom, and the two embrace, dropping out of shot to make love. Given Allen’s lascivious history, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he might exploit the moment’s lust, but fortunately (perhaps surprisingly), the kiss is part of a rich, sympathetic tapestry exploring the dynamics of love in its every form – repressed, unrequited, desire and anti-desire, monogamy and polygamy.

The lead females blaze through Spain – Vicky (Rebecca Hall), engaged to be married, and pursuing a Masters in Catalan Identity (which conversely enough, unearths her own), and Cristina following in the pursuit of love and discovering her desires. She enjoys the work of Gaudi - the architect’s unfinished works, much like herself, alive with the vivacity of their lauded curvature – and impulsively decides to follow painter Juan Antonio to an historical village, setting off a chain of emotionally and physically explosive events which make both girls re-evaluate what they held dear.

The film starts off oddly charm- and quirkless, seeming as though it’s going to be a perfectly obvious rom-com and continuing evidence that Allen’s losing his touch, with (Don) Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) the chancing charlatan, and the female leads acting mock-coy whilst swirling enormous, clichéd wine glasses – but it develops into a sensual, sensitive portrait of sexual experimentation with the arrival of Juan Antonio’s passionately erratic artist ex-wife, María-Elena, equal parts spiteful and seductive, spitting her words with hysterical fury and jealousy at Cristina’s usurping of her position.

In ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’, Allen riles against the conventions of love, the expectations and nomenclature that surround it, and only seeks to criticise Doug, Vicky’s smarmy, stereotypically yuppie fiancé, who longs for a life of expensive suburbia and bridge games, refusing to open his mind to the idea that love isn’t just marriage and financial security. Although ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ may not be one of Allen’s finest, it’s sure to be considerably more poignant and lasting than anything else you’re likely to see at the cinema this Valentine’s Day. Let’s just hope you’re not sat next to my brother…


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