(rewfilmmaker) from NAPLES, FL
Reviewed on 11/21/2011...
This is some of Woody's best work. Don't miss it.
(Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 11/3/2009...
Women from both sides of the Atlantic have trouble walking away from charming Lothario
In his early days, after he gave up writing comedies such as "Bananas" and "Sleeper", Woody Allen desperately wanted to join the ranks of the world's great directors such as Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. He churned out pretentious drivel such as "Interiors" in an attempt to emulate his beloved Bergman but deep down he always knew that he could never approach the great director's depth. So he turned to a mixture of romantic comedy and his own brand of 'art house fare' in the films that made him famous: 'Annie Hall', 'Manhattan' and 'Hannah and her Sisters'. Unfortunately, until the impressive "Crimes and Misdemeanors", he was never able to muster enough sympathy for his characters to make them credible enough or engaging. There was always that flash of arrogance underneath the surface that Allen was unable to hide; he was always one step above his characters, looking down on them rather then striking the necessary balance between sympathy and contempt.
At a certain point, Allen threw up his hands and decided for awhile that maybe he should go back to his strong suit as an 'entertainer'. He churned out fluff pieces such as 'Bullets over Broadway' and 'Manhattan Murder Mystery' but made one last attempt at joining the great directors' pantheon with "Deconstructing Harry", another failed attempt to emulate Bergman. Allen floundered until 2005 when he came out with 'Match Point' which marked a welcome move to the mainstream. No longer starring in his own films and filming in England, Allen decided that he no longer had to prove to the world that he was the next Fellini or Bergman. Up until the unconvincing climax, 'Match Point' was a taut drama chronicling the machinations of a lower-class retired tennis pro as he manipulates family members in an upper class milieu.
Vicky Christina Barcelona is content to examine all strictly middle class characters from both sides of the Atlantic. Before Allen shows us the 'dark' side to his characters, he wisely builds sympathy for them. Both Vicky and Christina are adventurers. Vicky, the more conservative of the two, is extremely skeptical of Juan Antonio's proposal to fly in his private plane for a weekend of wild abandon in a picaresque Spanish town. Her skepticism and conservative nature are her strong points. Christina, in contrast, believes in taking chances without thinking about the consequences so she convinces Vicky to accept Juan Antonio's proposal. While Christina often acts recklessly, her desire for freedom often leads her to new, interesting experiences which the average person would never dream of entertaining.
Juan Antonio, the suave Lothario, who sees nothing wrong in seducing as many women as he can, also has many likable attributes. Not only is he a 'smooth operator' but he has that 'senstive side' that women are drawn to. Vicky finds Juan Antonio's proposition to visit his father his "first genuinely interesting proposition". Juan Antonio's startling account of why his father won't share his poetry with the world draws Vicky to him. Juan Antonio's ex-girlfriend, the volatile Maria Elena, can hold her own with her ex in regards to creative pursuits. Not only does Juan Antonio claim that his strength as an artist can be attributed to Maria Elena but she is genuinely helpful to Christina when she teaches her how to become an accomplished photographer.
The plot of VCB never bores. The break into Act II occurs when Juan Antonio takes Vicky and Christina on a wild weekend. Up until the midpoint there are many twists: Christina becomes sick right before making love; Juan Antonio's seduction of Vicky; Doug's proposal to get married first in Spain and his arrival and Christina's decision to move in with Juan Antonio.
The midpoint marks escalating tension. This is when Maria Elena attempts suicide and moves in with Christina and Juan Antonio. More twists and turns occur in the second half of Act II: Maria Elena's terrible jealousy toward Christina; The revelation of Juan Antonio's infidelity which led to Maria Elena attacking him; Vicky's confession to Ben that she doesn't know why she's attracted to Juan Antonio; Judy's affair with Doug's business partner and her misguided encouragement of Vicky in continuing the affair with Juan Antonio; Christina's decision to leave the mĂ©nage a trios and Maria Elena and Juan Antonio's dispiriting breakup.
Woody Allen does a much better job with his climax than in Match Point since Maria Elena's 'crime of passion' is more believable than Chris, the ex-tennis pro's foray into full-blown murder.
Just as he views his characters with sympathy, Woody Allen doesn't hesitate to criticize them. Vicky admits that her husband Doug is a wonderful guy, someone who she's always wanted but cannot throw off her irrational attraction to Juan Antonio. Even at the end, she's about to be seduced by Juan Antonio AGAIN but is brought back to reality when Maria Elena's gun goes off and she sustains a flesh wound to her hand. Christina seems naturally drawn to vacuous affairs. Even at the beginning, she's telling Juan Antonio she'll go up to his room but "you'll have to seduce ME". She's also a bit arrogant when she tells him, "You're home free, unless you blow it". Christina never knows "what she wants" but does know "what she DOESN'T want".
Juan Antonio seems to go from one woman to another but is unable to make a commitment. His narcissism seems to always lead to bad feelings of jealousy amongst the various women he seduces. And of course Maria Elena is the ultimate narcissist in that she can't accept others unless they give her 100% loyalty.
The overuse of the narrator in VCB is perhaps the film's major flaw. One wonders why Woody Allen doesn't trust his audience to draw its own conclusions. Nonetheless, VCB marks a comeback of sorts for Woody Allen. It's a perceptive and critical look at European and American sensibilities regarding relationships and how they can go awry.
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