Thursday, January 15, 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

"They photographed everything from silly-looking dogs to grim-faced children."

Woody Allen, like The Simpsons, is a whole stream of modern comedy that has largely passed me by. I am, as Kermode would say, not at all Woody Allen-literate.

But, if I am to reach any conclusions based on Vicky Cristina Barcelona, they would be that this is a state of affairs that I should start to rectify forthwith. Because this is comedy at its very best...the kind that gets under your skin.

If I've had an obstruction to overcome with Woody Allen, it has been the sense that his work is just a bit too wordily witty and knowingly clever in a very New York kind of way. The beauty of this film however is its deadpan treatment of a series of relationships from central casting, which had me thinking of Eric Rohmer and other European comedies, where you find yourself laughing precisely when things seem to be at their most serious. We both wondered how much Spanish Woody Allen knows because the exchanges between Maria Helena and Juan Antonio (and one little aside by the latter's father) have been scripted masterfully.

The line quoted above is indicative of the how Allen uses his narrator's voiceover to keep the whole tale at an apex affording a view of both irony and earnestness. (Out and out satire it isn't) The drama too operates on the cusp of real thorniness, and at the end some viewers may be disappointed that the two girls appear able to leave Spain painlessly. But this is one of those movies where you can be so dazzled by all the pretty people in the foreground and all the pretty buildings in the background that you entirely miss all the interesting stuff going on in the sideground.

If in Elegy Cruz played the New York male's ideal of serene Latin beauty, here she gets to show us the chaotic flip-side. Once again she's superb. So too is Bardem, but his character turns out to be a tad flimsier than we are first led to expect on the Oviedo jaunt. Rebecca Hall, sister of my old schoolmate Edward, deserved equal billing with Scarlett Johanson.

Grade: A-

We watched Bardem again the other night in No Country for Old Men. V hadn't seen it and I thought I'd give it a second chance and did indeed find myself more able to appreciate it for what it is this time and not fret so much about any negative comparisons with McCarthy's novel.

And so, when Juan Antonio first approaches the two Americans in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, we both imagined that he might have had in mind a lite, romantic version one of those "what time do you close?"- style interlocutions; the kind with which Anton Chigurh so tormented that poor old man in the service station.

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