Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlet Johansson) are vacationing in Barcelona when they are given a straight-up sexual proposal from the seductive artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). The more conservative (not to mention engaged) Vicky is reluctant, while her more free-wheeling companion Christina is intrigued by the offer. The following weeks lead to an unusual love triangle, including the sudden resurfacing of Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Marie-Elena (a feisty Penelope Cruz).
Early in the film, shortly after Juan Antonio’s amorous proposition, Christina says “You’ve got to admire his no-bullshit approach.” The same can be said for Woody Allen and his treatment of this film. Unlike his comedies of the past, Vicky Christina Barcelona has very few of Allen’s trademark one-liners and side-splitting dialogue. No gags. No punchlines. Yet you can’t help but feel this is a funny movie. It’s a comedy that makes no attempt to make you laugh, but lets the viewer decide for him/herself what to find funny in the realism portrayed on screen.
And said realism is a big part of the movie. Allen’s screenplay and careful direction are key to removing the audience’s disbelief. The bizarre relationships that form don’t seem so bizarre through his eyes, And despite a brisk run-time of 96 minutes, he tells the story at a relaxed pace. He also gives the whole picture a distinctly Spanish flavour with his choice of music and Javier Aguirresarobe’s splendid cinematography.
The acting is top-notch all around, but special mention must be made for Penelope Cruz, who will likely receive an Oscar nomination for her zesty turn as Juan Antonio’s unstable ex-lover. Also look For Allen to be heavily considered for Best Original Screenplay.
*** out of ****