“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” could be a two-hour tonic for a weary American or a tourism brochure for a Gaudí city or the catalyst for an expatriate odyssey. But even for those without wanderlust, the film luxuriates in an adult, intelligent, and airy manner, gently titillating, seriously flirting.
Javier Bardem is a “Brings It” dude, as in “He Brings It.” Like current contemporaries of this insatiable machismo, Clive Owen and Daniel Craig, he exudes rugged confidence with a rumpled insouciance. In “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” even his Adam’s apple is tumescent.
Fittingly, he burst onto the scene in Bigas Luna’s lusty 1992 “Jamón, jamón” as “El chorizo.”
At an age where men, especially, have a startling tendency to turn inwards, mistaking obstinance for self assuredness, the 72-year-old Woody Allen is able to create as a screenwriter a multitude of distinct characters who are independent entities, viable and vibrant, who are seeking and searching for that which fulfills them. Consequences aren’t damned but honesty and openness are virtues.
You can detect the recalcitrant Allen persona in Rebecca Hall’s Vicky, squirming with an internal struggle between a Wall Street fiancé with polo shirts tucked into chinos and Bardem in shirts which seem buttoned with a lick of the lips. It’s navel gazing of an entirely different sort.
Scarlett Johansson is an enigma. Possessing art-house cache with turns in “Ghostworld” and “Lost in Translation,” one has suspected that her talent is more (pants) suited for a shitting on the dock of a Michael Bay blockbuster. But she embodies Cristina effortlessly. In the moment at a late supper, where she and Vicky first meet Bardem’s artist Juan Antonio, she sums up her character‘s sense of adventurous and autonomous sexuality. While Vicky is loathe to reward his advances as a first impression, Cristina respects Juan Antonio’s chat up lines as refreshing, bullshit-free effusions. It is a hallmark of Allen’s dexterous script that he provides both women with believable, reasoned and witty insight.
For a country where lad mags have to remind couples that they could have sex at times other than bedtime, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a paean to spontaneity, an example to statesiders to not only live in the moment, but to live in your moment.
Penelope Cruz is a powerhouse. Reminiscent of Anna Magnani in “The Rose Tattoo,” Cruz prowls the screen as Maria Elena, Juan Antonio’s ex-wife, but hardly his ex. A few years ago, Cruz faced a tenuous time in her career as she made a strange transatlantic crossing in projects like “Woman on Top,” “Vanilla Sky,” and “Sahara.” But, this year, with a role of this magnitude along with a brave performance in “Elegy,” it appears her days as Steve Zahn’s sidekick may become a trivial memory.
Graced with a gossamer disposition but buoyed as an actress with acute strength, Patricia Clarkson shines in a memorable cameo as the dignified but disquieted Judy Nash, who provides Vicky and Cristina with a villa for the summer, and perspective. Ensnared in a marriage to a mashed potatoes financier, Judy finds herself in a desiccating relationship bereft of turmoil but lacking in passion, made more desperate by her husband’s obliviousness to her unease.
The soundtrack is a flamenco-infused delight of many moods. From the opening credits of the jaunty, toe-tapping “Barcelona” by Guilia y Los Tellarini to the dramatic, sensual guitar work of Juan Serrano on “Gorrion,” the music is riveting, essential and a character all its own.