Monday, September 15, 2008

Summer in Spain

Let's just get this little contradiction out of the way right now:

I hate Woody Allen. But I love his movies. Particularly when he's not in them.

Oh, that's not quite true. I loved "Play It Again, Sam" and "Annie Hall" and a few others. It's just that his neurotic character tends to wear a little thin during the course of a 2-hour movie.

Woody doesn't appear in his latest picture, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Which is OK by me, but it wouldn't have mattered. This is a quirky, seductive, fun little film.

It all starts when two American friends, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), decide to spend the summer in Spain. Vicky is the serious one, about to marry a settled, if somewhat stifling, fiancee (Chris Messina). Cristina is a filmmaker of sorts, very much the wanderer, trying to find herself in bohemian Europe.

And it's in Barcelona that they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a dashing Spanish artist who bluntly asks the girls to take a weekend trip with him. He doesn't even bother pretending; he's really got one thing in mind.

Vicky doesn't want to go. Of course, Cristina does. And, as these things tend to go, Vicky, the hesitant one, falls in love with him, as does Cristina in time. Add to this mix Juan Antonio's wild, mentally unstable ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) and it makes for one bizarre little summer romance.

Let me say here that Bardem is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. If you've yet to see his tour de force in "No Country for Old Men," run don't walk to the video store and watch that movie tonight. I think I fell in love with Rebecca Hall during the movie and I don't guess I have to say one word about Scarlett Johansson. Sigh.

I'm not sure why I liked this film. Well, I have a few guesses. It offers a blatantly humanistic view of love and sex, refreshing in its honesty.

More than that, Allen always delivers a witty, intelligent, well-written picture, and he does so again here. (Am I really the only one in America that loved "Match Point"?) It's a bit jarring not to see his beloved Manhattan skyline dominate one of his movies, but he's obviously in love with the beauty of Barcelona, and he lets his cameras capture all of its romance in glorious Technicolor.

After watching this film, one definitely longs to spend the summer in Spain, delving into its treasures, losing yourself in the less rigid mores of the continent.

Then the lights come back up and you drive back to $5/gallon gas, back to the reality of the day, back to the stifling uniformity of the suburbs. Oh, well. It's nice while it lasts.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is now playing at Regal CinemaArt at Downtown West. It is rated R for language and sexual content.

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