“When we’re incomplete, we’re always searching for somebody to complete us. When, after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we’re still unfulfilled, we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising. This can go on and on - series polygamy - until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimensions to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfilment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter.” - Tom Robbins
We watched a famous film at weekend, one that we had heard a lot about – some of it quite controversial – which made us reluctant to watch it at first. However, we were in the right sort of mood at the weekend and we finally watched it. It was Woody Allen’s 2008 “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, starring Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. The film was pleasantly surprising and once we had finished seeing it, we understood the reason for the controversy, given the “cheeky” plot.
In a nutshell, the plot revolves around the adventurous and more sexually bold Cristina (Johansson) and her friend Vicky (Hall), who is bright but conservative and cautious, who are on holiday in Barcelona. By chance, they meet the celebrated and seductive painter, Juan Antonio (Bardem) who makes them a frank and outrageous offer – that they should both go to bed with him. Vicky is flabbergasted, and unwilling to enter into such a sexual adventure, not the least reason being that she is committed to her forthcoming marriage. Cristina, however, is immediately attracted to Juan Antonio and his Latin and thinks of nothing to saying yes to his offer. Juan Antonio’s fascination is cemented by the fact that he has just been through a scandalous divorce from Maria Elena (Cruz), a fiery and temperamental fellow artist. Things don’t quite work out the way they are planned and Vicky finds herself in a situation that cause her to question greatly her relationship with her fiancé, but also the type of married life she is committing herself for.
Woody Allen is a quirky filmmaker and this movie is another of his sublimated fantasies spiced just a little bit with comedy (don’t expect extremely witty one-liners or raucous belly laughs – the humour is much more subtle). He is obviously making a philosophical statement, perhaps influenced by the true-life story of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Woody is certainly a filmmaker who enjoys making films, so much his work being so utterly self-indulgent. That the public likes his work is of secondary importance and quite inconsequential to his art.
The first thing about this film that struck immediately was that it was beautiful in terms of cinematography, sets, locations and sheer gorgeousness of its settings. It was quite delightful to be taken on a whirlwind tour of Catalonia and Barcelona and drink in the scenery, the beautiful vistas and delightful neighbourhoods, art, architecture and villages. The actors are good-looking and immediately win over the viewer, not only because they act well and look good, but because they seem immersed in their roles and have an ingenuousness about them, despite the rather complex and steamy relationships they involve themselves in. Patricia Clarkson, who plays Judy Nash (the middle-aged wife of an American couple who are friends of Vicky's parents and with whom solid Vicky and impetuous Cristina stay in Barcelona) deserves a special mention, even though she has a supporting role, which nevertheless is quite a pivotal one.
In terms of the philosophy espoused by Woody in the film, it is crystal clear that Woody suggests that romantic happiness is achieved best in a relationship where three people are simultaneously involved, and that such a relationship is of necessity ephemeral. This is pure anathema to monogamists, and Vicky certainly is the typical monogamist that voices that view. However, she is also the one who has the most doubt about her version of a perfect relationship, something that is underlined by Judy’s failed “perfect” marriage. Cristina is a much more complex character and seems to be the one who surprises Juan-Antonio and Maria-Elena the most – despite their “progressive” ideas about relationships.
The film was engaging and enjoyable, not the least attractive part being the delicious music in the soundtrack and the gorgeous scenery. I could see that it would be offensive to some people, especially those with deep religious beliefs and of a conservative background. However, as Woody Allen states himself, it is ultimately a sad film, especially given Vicky’s suggested fate at its end. We would recommend it for viewing by open-minded people with a sense of humour.