17 August 2008
A Thing of Beauty....
"In the late '70s and '80s, Allen made comedies and dramas, but he's beyond those distinctions now. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" exists in its own Allen universe, an idiosyncratic mixture of Fitzgeraldian romanticism, Rohmer-esque self-involved loquaciousness and Marx Brothers absurdity. Allen's vision is so clear in his mind that genre demands are swept away. Vicky and Cristina go where they want to go, and nothing seems forced or guided about their journey. It's as if Allen were merely watching them and taking dictation." - Mick LaSalle from his review of Woody Allen's latest film, Vicky Christina Barcelona.
No one writes better dialogue than Woody Allen. It's smart and funny. No it's intelligent and witty. It's challenging...but accessible. And damn it, it fits his characters perfectly. A movie stops dead in its tracks when a line is spoken that doesn't fit the speaker or sounds like a cliche.
With Allen all the conversation is to a purpose. Even when there's a lot of dialogue the story keeps moving. Credit Allen the screenwriter and Allen the director. Watching people talk can be quite tedious. Never a problem in Allen's movies. Largely because his creations always have something interesting to say.
For VCB (if you'll excuse the initials) Allen used a narrator. This kept us from enduring the summarizing conversations that characters are forced to give that can be so bloody awkward. In VCB the narration allowed his wonderful cast to embody their roles -- which they all did with zeal. Reportedly Allen gives his actors little direction. It shows. They are allowed to breathe and to do that breathing as their character. Watch Penelope Cruz let her rip as a quirky, if suicidal artist. I just saw and enjoyed Cruz in a more restrained performance for Elegy. My God she was a lot of fun as Maria Elena. And Javier Bardem plays the polar opposite of No Country's Fold Men's (2007) Anton Chigurh. Bardem a versatile actor? Try transcendent.
Despite the consequent pay cut of doing an Allen picture (they're low budget productions), seemingly all actors want to "do a Woody" (so to speak). So he gets his pick. Thus for VCB we get Cruz, Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Patricia Clarkson and Rebecca Hall. I didn't recognize Hall's name in the film's build up either but thanks to VCB it's about to become quite familiar to movie audiences. If not a star, at least a promising actress is born to the wider world.
In the past Allen has used the landscape of New York and more recently London to great effect in his movies. VCB is of course set in and around Barcelona. Suffice to say I'm ready to pack up and go there and no doubt other viewers of VCB will feel the same. Allen's incorporation of geography into his story is inspired.
A good Woody Allen film -- and VCB is certainly one of them -- make me aspire to be a better person. Not morally good necessarily (that's so pedestrian) but more artistic and alive. Truer to myself. Film at its best challenges us intellectually and stirs passions that have been dormant. In the romance of the screen world we see something to aspire to. An ideal. That the characters may be morally corrupt is aside the point. They are full of passion and are trying to make sense of their lives. The conflictions that plague Allen's characters are laid bare. They thus allow us to consider are own inner turmoil. And truly if we become more alive and artistic with a greater sense of identity, we are becoming morally better (and there's nothing pedestrian about that).
Hall and Johannson play friends who are polar opposites in fundamental ways. An unexpected love triangle develops. No, that's too simple a description. Is it a quadrangle? You've got to see it to understand it. But it does contain a rather toxic combination of lust and reason. With Bardem at the center. See IMDb or a review of the film for a synopsis. Suffice to say that VCB is rich in beauty. Barcelona, the countryside, Cruz, Johansson, Hall and dare I say it? Bardem are all pleasing to the eye. But it is the movie's passion for life (obviously a reflection of its creator) that make it such a joy to behold.
There is quite literally wine, women and song. And so much more. What a feast!