Opening 4 Dec 2008
Americans Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) spend the summer in Barcelona. Although best friends, they differ in temperament: Vicky is engaged to Doug and working on a thesis about Catalonia. Cristina chooses her men according to their underpants and needs to relax after having just made a film. Still, far from home and open to adventure, they are alike in their lust for Spaniard Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). From here on we have musical chairs in different combinations aided by the arrival of Doug from the U.S. and Juan’s ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) from her last suicide attempt. The summer ends with each character back at square one and we think: good riddance.
This is director Woody Allen’s fourth made-in-Europe film after having abandoned his former source of inspiration, New York City; it’s his third film with Scarlet Johansson, whom he considers his muse, although she is no Diane Keaton. I saw the film dubbed in German, but it was still recognizably Woody Allen, as much as singing an English version of O Tannenbaum would make no difference in the basic premise. Language wasn’t the problem. It was the flat script and plot, almost a dull parody of Allen’s successful films, which prevented the actors (except for Penelope Cruz who was wonderful in spite of all hindrances) from rising above soap opera standards. She and the brilliantly photographed scenes of Barcelona – each scene a perfect post card rendition – have earned my two stars. Much wine, talk and cigarettes and a Javier Bardem looking as scruffy as he did in No Country for Old Men do not make an interesting film. Now, the Spanish guitar player who fascinated Vicky in the beginning: that’s a real Latin Lover!
As far as Allen goes, there’s nothing wrong with running around Europe if NYC doesn’t love you any more, but he should ponder his own quote in the film: a comment about puritanical America and free-spirited Europe, and realize that his NYC brand of morals, loyalties, and expectations don’t export well to Europe. Leave Penelope Cruz and Spain to Spanish director Pedro Almovadar, whose ghost seemed to be hovering in the background of this film, just itching to come out to make things better. On an upbeat note: Woody Allen has done Barcelona a terrific public relations service. Everyone should visit the city to see constructions by Antoni Gaudi, The Güell Park, Tibidabo carnival park, The Hospital de Saint Pau, the Miro Museum, the Museu Nacional d’Art Catalunya, and much more. (Becky Tan)