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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Two friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall), a cautious, always planning ahead art-student, and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), a cautious-as-hurricane failed artiste, spend a summer in Barcelona while Vicky works on her thesis and prepares for her marriage to her steady-as-a-rock businessman boyfriend. Cristina, despondent about her recently failed 12-minute film ruminating on why love is so hard to define, becomes infatuated with local painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Antonio proposes to them a weekend of wine, art, and sex, which riles the effervescent Cristina, but deters Vicky who does not want to compromise her engagement. In 96 minutes, writer-director Woody Allen tries to define his interpretation of love.

Though thematically similar to his brooding Match Point, Allen’s latest script is a little lighter: funny, insightful, neurotic, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is undeniably Woody Allen. In fact, Vicky easily works as a less concentrated extension of his own on-screen persona. That isn’t to say that this is just a rehash of his formula; instead, Allen once again tries to broaden his limits as a filmmaker.

As in his Radio Days, a narrator is used to expel necessary but time-consuming information. Voice-overs are one of filmmaking’s dire don’ts that only expert craftsmen like Scorsese and Kubrick have been able to pull off. Allen once again proves that he’s just as capable as they come. For the budding screenwriter, this is a lesson in voice-over done right.

Music plays an important role in setting the mood to the exotic and sensual setting of the Spanish landscape. Serene shots of bustling markets and pristine ocean coasts are sights to behold – though only to be marred by the anxious subject matter that battles the aesthetic beauty of the film.

After the two Americans fall for Juan Antonio, their situation is further complicated when his crazy, suicidal ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), comes back into the picture. With emotions blazing, infatuations develop into a tumultuous love quartet. However, after Vicky spends a life-altering night with the painter, her fiancé makes a quick trip to Spain so that they can elope, much to her reluctance. Is this the life she wants? Or is she jealous of Cristina’s new Bohemian lifestyle, free of work and monogamy (guys will appreciate the Johansson-Cruz dark room scenes)?

What is love? The answer may be ultimately unrealized in this film, with an ending good yet as unfulfilling as the outcome of Match Point. But with great cinematography, witty writing, emotional performances, and a wonderful soundtrack, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a good night at the theater. And for Woody Allen fans, it’s a must.