There’s a reason why Woody Allen’s latest film’s title is a sole statement of the film’s lead characters and location. For a director who has made his life’s work an explicit form of storytelling, we should expect nothing less. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is no exception to this established mode of filmmaking.
The complexities of each character’s storyline cross paths by means of some philosophical rant about the meaning of this or that. All the while, the story arc remains intact, divergent through no tangent. Still, new elements are introduced, making things increasingly interesting as the story of two best friends spending their summer in Spain plays out.
The characters in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” struggle with problems and philosophical life-altering issues on their own separate planes of existence. The character of Vicky, played by UK-native Rebecca Hall, is the neurotic New Yorker and every bit as one-track minded and talkative as our lead male in “Annie Hall,” except that Hall executes the part extraordinarily well.
A somewhat antithesis to her best friend, Cristina, the presentation of Vicky’s existential quarter-life crisis comes at a time when it seems like her life is about to enter a morbidly uneventful autopilot. With Catalan guitar music, the night air and the wiles of one dashing yet tortured painter, her dreams of 2.6 kids and weekend Hampton trips go awry.
Meanwhile, it’s obvious that Scarlett Johansson, who plays Christina, is fast becoming Allen’s new muse. Here, she is constantly fitful in her own existential woes concerning the purpose and place of love and relationships in her life.
For this reason, Johansson’s slightly furrowed brow plays into the confused and perpetually soul- searching figure of Cristina, simultaneously holding her own as a personified sensual free spirit of love and beauty whose presence adds to the dynamicism of the plot.
It is then Javier Bardem’s character, Juan Antonia, who shakes things up during this summer Spanish getaway for the two girls, yet not as much as the presence of his on-screen ex-wife Maria Elena, played by Penélope Cruz. Their dynamic is vengeful, passionate and emotional throughout the film. Maria Elena is an unstable yet highly talented woman whose fanciful fits of emotive expression make up her world.
Similarly, Bardem is the perfect Juan Antonio, forever splattered with paint, smiling at beautiful women and permanently subjected to the woes of an unattainable love.
Really, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” progresses like a palette laid for each of its characters to experience a singular extraordinary moment in their lifetime. Through fully realized experiences, the characters let life happen in unconventional ways, learning about themselves and what is inevitably in store for their futures. It’s this inevitability, which is laid as a backdrop that perfectly glides the film along.
From Woody Allen’s signature title sequences to the always-prevalent neurotic blabbermouth, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a cohesively coherent and completely stand-alone film. It’s more than a moving scrapbook for your one crazy summer abroad. What comes from the film is an adept sense of being and understanding oneself. While that theme may sound complex, it is with the sheer talent of filmmaking that “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is all that in a perfected package of unabashedly sound filmmaking.