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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen's Latest Film, Is

a) a brilliant and subtle comment on how flat, vague, and remote we are, despite (or maybe because of) our ability to travel, observe, create, and socialize

b) a flat, vague movie written and acted with too much remove

Answer: _________________________

In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, two friends — Christina (Scarlet Johansson) and Vicky (Rebecca Hall) — fly to Barcelona for a couple of months so that Vicky can gather information for her Master's thesis in Catalan Studies. Christina is (or considers herself?) a free-spirited-bohemian-type who beds every intriguing man she meets. Vicky, on the other hand, seeks commitment and stability; she's engaged to be married to a guy in the U.S. with a lucrative-but-boring job.

The girls, who are staying in Barcelona with Vicky's female relative, Judy (Patricia Clarkson), wind up at an art gallery where they notice a hunky painter named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Judy tells the girls about Juan Antonio's mysterious ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), and the story of Juan and Maria's freaky, violent relationship.

Later, at a restaurant, Cristina and Vicky spot Juan Antonio at another table. He joins them and proposes they leave in his private plane for a weekend of girl-boy-girl action. Vicky gets offended, Cristina is into it, and surprise!, they do get on that plane, though Vicky is careful to book a separate room for herself and Cristina. Nevertheless, Cristina visits Juan Antonio's room and just when things are about to get intimate, she realizes that she's about to hurl. Food poisoning.

So the next day, while Cristina recovers in bed, Vicky winds up touring the city with Juan Antonio. In the evening they find themselves in a park, where they sit and watch a guitar player. Vicky (who, despite her supposed interest in Catalan culture, speaks no Spanish) is apparently "moved" by the guitar-playing, and this somehow renders her more open to the idea of spending time with Juan-Antonio-the-seductive-cad, and oops!, the two "do it." Afterwards Vicky, upset by her own indiscretion, buries herself in the stacks of the pubic library, doing research for her Catalan Studies thesis.

Cristina, who isn't aware of what has just transpired between Vicky and Juan Antonio, spends the next few evenings in bed with Juan, and she winds up moving in with him. Then Juan's sexy, unstable ex, Maria Elena, shows up, and all kinds of crazy hijinks ensue, including a sexual triangle! When she isn't making out with Maria Elena and Juan Antonio, Cristina spends her days taking mediocre photographs in and around Barcelona, and her photographs arouse in the three of them — Cristina, Juan Antonio, and Maria Elena — a state of artistic synergy, while the three-way sex makes for peace and harmony.

In the meantime, Vicky's boring fiancee decides to fly to Barcelona because he thinks it will be more romantic for he and Vicky to say their vows in Spain than in the U.S. Though Vicky, who still yearns for Juan Antonio, is no longer in a hurry to marry her fiancee, she agrees to this plan. Still, Vicky realizes that what she wants more than anything is to do Juan Antonio one last time.

Luckily for Vicky, Cristina has decided she's not interested in the menage thing anymore, and partly in reaction to Cristina's departure, Maria Elena, too, has abandoned Juan Antonio. As there is no one around to do, Juan jumps at this last-minute opportunity for more sexin'. But before he and Vicky can get down properly, Maria Elena shows up with a gun, and she has a big shooting tantrum, and Vicky realizes that a last-minute affair with Juan Antonio is too crazy and dangerous for her taste.

In the end of the movie Vicky and Cristina leave Barcelona, and we realize that the experience has left them virtually unchanged. Which begs the question: is the entire movie an interesting comment on the inner dullness of the characters, or is it a very bad movie that failed to produce well-rounded characters?

Throughout the movie Johansson's delivery is so ingeniously bland, I find it hard to believe that it wasn't intentional on her part (though after looking into it, I've learned that many consider her a very bad actor). In this movie, it's fascinating that even though she has all the essential ingredients of a sexpot (the bleachy blond hair, the jutting boobs, the gargantuan lips, the low voice), she's about as sexy as meatballs with ketchup. Her friend Vicky, who differs from Cristina in two distinct ways (she's brunette, and she works slightly harder at pretending that she doesn't want to jump in the sack with Juan Antonio), is equally bland. Both characters, however, seem to believe that they have interesting inner qualities: though Cristina says that she never expects to excel at any art form she admires, the movie seems to believe that by not having a passionate interest in anything, she is living outside the rules; and while Vicky has an interest in Catalan culture, her interest originated when she was fourteen years old (she saw a picture of a building designed by Gaudi) and hasn't apparently deepened or expanded much since then, despite her graduate school studies. Maybe there's something about the farcically bouncy little song that opens Maria Cristina Barcelona to suggest the movie isn't meant to be taken literally.

In juxtaposition to Vicky and Cristina, Juan Antonio and Maria Elena have a volatility and passion the two travelers seem to admire, much the way I (perhaps unfairly) imagine Angelina Jolie — or, for that matter, Mia Farrow — admires herself for adopting children from developing countries. If this juxtaposition weren't based in a stereotype — that Spaniards are wild, hot-blooded lovers — then the argument that this movie is meant to be ironic or critical, rather than literal (meaning, bad), would be much easier to defend.

But in my view, the entire movie represents a fantasy Vicky and Cristina would plausibly have, one in which the mere act of flying to another country and spending time there makes the traveler interesting as a human being. The movie implies that the girls believe Juan Antonio's passion (as evidenced by his relationship with his ex-, plus the notion that he is an artist) will rub off on them, simply because they have managed to stir his interest. Juan Antonio's stormy relationship with the suicidal Maria Elena is, in many ways, the kind of romantic story one might expect two shallow, nice-looking young women brought up in the United States would tell themselves.

Neither Cristina nor Vicky makes a lasting impression on anyone else in the film, and though Vicky winds up with a minor flesh wound that will likely heal in a matter of weeks, Barcelona hasn't made much of an impression on them, either. At the heart of this film is a very sad, very cynical idea: elsewhere exists an alternate reality much more dangerous, more exciting, than our own, and by visiting that reality, it's possible to temporarily add some danger to our own lives without risking, venturing, or learning a thing.


Blogger purplesimon said...

Cool, you wrote. What's your PayPal account? Then you can get paid and not feel bad about it :)

Seriously, you should start sending stuff out to blogs and so on. There are plenty of people that will happily pay for content - locally and globally.

Freelancing is scary at first. I built up a book of contacts and also a portfolio of work (and not just published stuff, but things that I'd thought of and they hadn't gone anywhere). Okay, so advertising copywriting is my career, but I've also done music reviews (free music before others get it) and film reviews. Plenty of magazines need content and will pay a small sum for your words. The more you write, the more you get. I think you should at least try to send something out to someone and see what you get back. Maybe you've got an idea for a newspaper column about SF or something else you're passionate about. I know you've got oodles of talent, so I reckon you should do it.

Oh, this post was great. A reflection of its author.

purplesimon out...

3:34 AM

Blogger ing said...

Hey, Purps!

Yes, I was thinking about that. . . How did you find the places that were looking to pay for content? Did you just search and inquire? That review was fun to write, and yo, I think I'd enjoy writing more of these things. ; ) Thanks for the words of encouragement! I'm going running now. . . I plan to be skinny and healthy, while I'm unemployed.

xx to you.

7:52 AM

Blogger purplesimon said...

Hey Ing! That's exactly how I did it. Find magazines, websites, etc that might take a review and send 'em some stuff.

It helps if you can find an angle on your idea, as then you might find it builds into a column. This is then ongoing work each month. It's much the same as you'd do with any writing, except you have to think of a commercial angle on it. Why would someone pay to read it. For me, I think the question you pose at the beginning of your review made it stand out to me. It's like a brainteaser and review all in one! Cool.

Find some music magazines and offer to review latest albums while doing yoga, or something like that. Sounds mad, but you never know. I once pretended to be a washing machine called Fluff that put records on a full spin and gave them a mark out of five. I had real fun with that!

You don't even have to be yourself. That's what's so great about it. Make up a personality, write from their point of view. It's nothing you don't know, it's just making it commercially valuable to someone. That's the angle bit.

Anyway, I'm simply repeating the same idea in each new paragraph, so I'll stop now.

All you need really do is find out what the going rate is per word (that's what you usually get paid by and they'll give you a word count between 100 and 500 usually) and then you'll be able to work out what you'll earn.

I'm sure it'll only be supplementary to begin with, but that's how it was for me once. Now I earn very good money. It's all possible.

Hope the run was good. And you're already skinny me dear! It's toning that counts, anyway :)

Now, go and watch this video and be impressed (I hope).

purplesimon out...


9:33 AM

Blogger ginab said...

i can't read this given I'm seeing it for myself over the weekend.

love you!

1:53 PM

Blogger Ren said...

As someone who has made love to both Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz... in my mind... I loved your review of this flick. Thanks!

7:54 PM

Blogger ing said...


Thank you for the advice, the idea, yes!! 'Course I haven't yet looked into it, but this week has been kind of long and busy. I will, though, I mean it. Right now, however, I'm desperately making doctor's appointments and dentist's appointments while my health insurance is still in effect.

Angles - I will think about angles. And personas. Yes.

You are cool. Thank you for the encouragement. And yes, the video is impressive.



Well, I hope you see something better than this, if you do see something. Like a sunset, or a moonrise.



Thanks, and you bet! You sure do get around. . .

2:50 PM

Blogger ahva-rahn said...

meatballs and ketchup doesn’t sound that bad, and it would at least be very convenient, no real hard work needed, and to be sure, would always garner an its-okay at best, i suspect.

terrific, tight review here, although i feel you’ve revealed too much. haven’t seen it, and might be able to skip it now, but i believe the sad, cynical idea has some substance.

10:59 AM


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