Spain Is For Lovers

8.12.2008

By Matthew Breen

Whether or not one delighted in Woody Allen's early New York City masterpieces or his more recent London films, it's clear that a change of venue to Barcelona hasn't stripped the neurotic auteur of any of his peculiar penchants regarding love and sex, represented here by beautiful young women debating loftily about love and sex, then having sex. This time (and why you're reading about it here), the women have sex with each other.

The title, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, is the recipe for a heady summer. To the gorgeous Spanish city add one engaged woman (Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall) with sensible goals for love and marriage, and one adventurous but bored best friend (Cristina, played by Scarlett Johansson); shake and serve. When Cristina and the charismatic but possibly dangerous artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) shack up, Maria Elena (Pen'lope Cruz, playing his definitely dangerous and possibly crazy ex-wife) appears from the blue and joins them in bed.

For Johansson, any difficulty in playing her character had nothing to do with her bisexual exploration. 'The hardest thing about playing Cristina was finding her purpose, her motivation,' she says. 'She is a sort of aimless character who has no real passion in life.' While Juan Antonio, Vicky, and Cristina represent the film's three main romantic theses, Johansson, personally, demurs. 'I don't think that the full spectrum of love is represented by all of the characters in this film,' she says.

The film is sexy and fun rather than insightful or profound, and Allen's issues are laid out on the table in frank debate, with internal monologue turned into omniscient narration. His technique is underscored in an early conversation in the film when Juan Antonio propositions both Americans simultaneously. While Vicky is disgusted, Cristina is intrigued, saying, 'You've got to admire his nonbullshit approach.'

Vicky Cristina Barcelona opens August 15.

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