Movie Reviews
2:17 pm
Tue August 19, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Closer with his Three Graces . . .

"An easy attainment makes love contemptible; a difficult one makes it more dear."

"Nothing prevents a woman from being loved by two men, or a man from being loved by two women."

From The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus (Late 12th Century)

The Woodman has found a home, and it's not Manhattan. After a brief time in London, Woody Allen has landed in Spain, Barcelona to be precise, and he is more lyrical than he has ever been before with his new romance, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

The film and the city allow the director to be young and creative, attributes in short supply for most artists on the short side of 70. This light-hearted but philosophical romantic comedy deconstructs love in all its maddening irony only to end just as romantically as it began. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) visit Barcelona with very different attitudes toward romance, Vicky a pragmatist engaged to be married and Cristina a wandering sybarite in search of love.

As if in some medieval allegory, they meet love in the form of painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who woos them both and other desirable young things as if they were the very life of his art, as if he could not live without their sensuality. They all find a restlessness where nothing can satisfy like the love they can't have. Medieval courtly love as codified by Andreas Cappelanus comes to mind (see above), in which unfulfilled love is the only romantic love.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is framed by a narrator who lends an almost travelogue feel to the proceedings as he explicates and narrates what we don't see on screen. Although I usually favor a narrator's insight, a colleague reminds me her film class taught writers to show, not tell. She may be right in this case even though the lilting pace mitigates the depressing infidelity with the major players.

The cinematography is as lush as Juan's lovers, who are capped by the older but far richer character, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). Allen also peppers his backgrounds with Gaudi, the Catalan architect who even more than Miro represents the romantic spirit of Spanish art and individualism.

Although Allen doesn't have the answer to what women want as Chaucer did, he comes closer with his Three Graces--Vicky, Cristina,and Maria.