Monday, March 2, 2009

Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona (2008) or How to Sexualize Americans Abroad

Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz make out, ‘though in a dark room while developing photographs.Penelope Scarlett Barcelona
Scarlett’s character, Cristina, goes on to say that she doesn’t want to define her sexuality into categories.

Okay so I find this Woody Allen film incredibly unique. It has the spirit of an old-school European film only with the occasional English subtitles. Woody mentioned in the September 2008 issue of Interview magazine, that he felt like he was making an incredibly European film,with scenes of biking along the country side  and with a picnic basket (Suddenly, my memories evoked Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962)  and to some degree, The Sound of Music (1965)—You know, the scene where they are wearing the green drapes, singing do-re-mi and biking by those green trees).
I read this Allen article after seeing the movie on a Tuesday 2:00 matinee.  I entered the theatre late, a little after Woody Allen’s signature opening credits. The audience consisted of me, and two middle-aged women—one of them wrapped in a hobo lady’s scarves and the other, with her luggage, seemed to be burning time while waiting for her flight connection or train. I sat in the back row by the door. Through out the movie, I tried to laugh as loud as I could during the appropriate moments.  The scarves lady chuckled at random moments. After the movie ended, I held the door for them, and the scarves lady had a delighted smile on her face. She said to me, “That was very amusing” as we exited through the lobby.

Now I consider this a genuine cinematic experience.  This is what a good film should do—involve the audience and help them form some indescribable unity among strangers. The film requests the audience to get involved.
With that concept in mind, I can’t help but be reminded of the magic of the movies.  This particular film was pure escapism for me and those two other broads. The premise of Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona centers on two young American women abroad: Vicky (played by Rebecca Hall), a type-A personality who is very WASPy, upper middle class Midwestern with a clear direction in life and a strict moral code; and Cristina (Scarlett), an aimless blond, experimental and frustrated with how to artistically express herself.
These two women soon encounter an entrancing Spaniard painter in the form of Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who asks them for a threesome and a weekend at some place where they have to use a small plane to get to. Vicky, who’s engaged to some stockholder type/ Knicks fan as well as has a zipper on her vajayjay, naturally says no.  Cristina, like any drunk young American (except she’s more classy ‘cause she’s drunk off wine instead of Buds or Jell-O shots) considers the proposition. Well, Cristina got too wasted and after one kiss with Juan Antonio, vomits and is out of commission for the rest of the weekend,in bed in her hotel room. Vicky is forced to go sight seeing with Juan Antonio where he is seduced by the Spanish air and  gives in to desire, bedding with the Latin lover. She doesn’t tell her bed ridden best friend about her brief indiscretion.VickyChristinaBarcelona-5
Okay so they fly back to Barcelona, where J.A. ends it with Vicky, because of a philosophy that is repeated throughout the film, that only unfulfilled love can be romantic. Besides, the J.A. was being very realistic, they were too incompatible.  She was tight and he had a horny genitalia. They would only end up fighting.
So that WASPy fiancé of Vicky’s decided to follow her to Barcelona and decide they want to wed there.  Meanwhile, J.A. sexes up Cristina and asks her to move in with him. They have fun, live the life Boheme, drinking lots of hard liquor and going to coffee shops with other artists of poetry, literature, sculptor—you know, the European equivalent of a Soho Starbucks crowd.
Then Penelope Cruz makes her grand entrance as J.A.’s suicidal ex-wife, María Elena. At first, things are rocky, with M.E. consistently badmouthing Cristina. After some struggle, they somehow manage to work together and soon they have a ménage a trios. Very Jules et Jim.
If you are familiar with how Woody Allen films work, you should by now understand how long his dialogues could be and how they require a little patience (It was a labor for an ADD ridden guy as me to re-watch it on DVD).

I believe what makes this movie so magical is the collaboration of these wonderful personalities. I mean, why else would I have dragged my butt away from my laptop and into a movie theatre?

And as an afterthought, after getting pictures, I couldn’t help but think that Woody Allen had seen Scarlett Johansson’s Gap Ads from a few years back. Subconsciously of course…or maybe, just a coincidence. Either way I just thought of connecting the dots.

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