The Screening Room Blog
Monday, October 27, 2008
Return to form for Woody Allen
LONDON, England -- Lust, passion, laughter, art, a beautiful city and a ménage a trois with two of the world’s most beautiful actresses -- you couldn’t ask for more perfect ingredients for a great Woody Allen tragic-comedy.

What some are calling a true return to form for Allen with “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona,” is actually the evolution of a form he has been experimenting with for quite some time.

Allen, a self-confessed neurotic, seems to have found a new self in Europe, filming most of his latest movies on the continent which has often been more appreciative of his talents than his native United States.

Mostly, his new-found confidence has paid off. “Match Point” was received in the main positively and while 2007's “Cassandra’s Dream” is one of only few movies that made me fall asleep, he has now succeeded in most critics’ eyes with “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona.”

Scarlett Johansson and equally luscious-lipped co-star, Rebecca Hall, who play respectively Cristina and Vicky, are best friends spending the summer in Barcelona. While Vicky, who is engaged to a good but terribly lackluster man, believes that true love can only mean commitment and stability, Cristina is a fervent soul who insists love can only mean deep passion and bottomless pain.

Both their worlds are turned upside down when they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a confident, passionate Spanish painter with a taste for ménages a trois -- Bardem being infinitely sexier in this role than he was as a serial killer with a bob haircut in “No Country for Old Men.”

But the incontestable star of the movie is Penelope Cruz, who plays Maria Elena, the psychotic but brilliant ex-wife of Juan Antonio. Cruz brings a depth to the character that Allen rarely elicits from his actors and that Johansson and Hall could only dream of.

In the end, the movie works because it deals with a theme to which most women can relate. Should I stick with that great guy, who guarantees a stable and fine life-partnership, or do I leave him to roam the world in search of the passionate, sexually-charged, volatile artist-type more likely to leave me in pieces?

I somehow hoped that Woody Allen, who has himself been through the torments of love, would provide that magic answer. As usual, however, Allen offers only questions.

But while parts of the movie come off tragic, he takes the theme of love with a pinch of salt. A choice the audience seemed to appreciate responding with little other than laughs and applause.

Do you think "Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona" is a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars?

-- From Anouk Lorie for CNN

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