14 September 2008

At the movies: Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

The rumors are true; this is the best thing that Woody Allen has made in quite some time.

To fit that statement on my WA continuum, the last films of his that I liked were Melinda & Melinda and Small Time Crooks, and the last film of his that I loved was Deconstructing Harry.

This is a subtle and genuinely sensual tale of desire and repression and friendship that feels like a brilliant short story given life (its use of a narrator initially seems off-putting, but by the end of the film allows it to reach beyond the usual limitations of such a device and into something rather affecting). Two American girls, drawn into the magnetic sway of a charismatic painter with an unpredictable ex-wife, basically have to try and define who they are, artistically and emotionally. That's the short version.

The long version is that human relationships are complicated, and what one wants is not necessarily a constant thing in life, but that our inherently schizophrenic natures can sometimes make everything okay or just as easily fuck it up beyond recognition. Scarlett Johansson is more beautiful than ever in what seems like her thirty-seventh film with Allen, and Javier Bardem, as he is most of the time, is sex on a stick. Big ups to Penelope Cruz, who knocks it out of the park (and partially in English, which unmakes my theory about her being a great actress in Spanish and a not-so-great actress in English). Spain itself comes off beautifully, with everything being sun-dappled and comfortable and filled with art and wine and opportunities for making love with beautiful people.

This is one of the better date movies of the summer, to be sure, and a hopeful sign of the newly-regained relevance of Woody Allen.

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