Writer-director Woody Allen brings his comic insight to a new location for the inveterate New Yorker: summertime Spain where the lives and loves of two young American tourists and two Spanish artists intermingle in unexpected ways. Alan Silverman has a look at Woody Allen's new film Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
The best friends from America are in Spain for summer holiday. Graduate student Vicky, engaged to be married back home, hopes to do some research for her dissertation. Free spirit Cristina is looking for whatever adventure comes along. What comes along is seductive painter Juan Antonio who propositions the two young women in a Barcelona restaurant.
Oscar-winner Javier Bardem plays the handsome, charming artist and admits that, at first, he was concerned that writer-director Allen wanted him to play the stereotype.
"It was a hard one," admits Bardem. "I read it and said 'how do you do that?' because it is so cliché ...so much stereotype; but then I realized what he wanted to do, which is, first of all, let's put all of the stereotypes in front of us ...all of the clichés: the American tourist, the romantic town and the Latin lover. Second, let's make fun of that. Third, let's destroy it and finally we'll see what's behind those stereotypes which, ultimately, is people that share the same fears, needs, goals, dependencies and questions. Maybe they ask in a different way, but all of them are looking for the same thing ...and I love that idea."
It's the third Woody Allen film to feature Scarlett Johanssen, who plays impulsive Cristina; and Johanssen says she understands why the character would take up Juan Antonio's offer.
"Well, if I wasn't spoken for I'd probably go," says Johanssen. "If Javier Bardem walked up to the table in that red satin shirt ...I mean why not? I think that's one part of the character that I do really appreciate: that kind of 'seize the day' philosophy. You have live, live, live ...that kind of mentality."
On the other hand, Vicky, played by English actress Rebecca Hall, represses a secret urge to be adventurous.
"I think it's quite a human trait to be scared about how life is going to pan out," Hall says. "You pick your box. You sort of go 'to make this all easier I'm going to behave like this person and I'm going to have these opinions about it and then my life is going to be together because I know exactly how to deal with every situation.' This film is about people who in various extremities have picked their way ...their mode of behavior ...and as always in life, you go along and the unexpected happens and you can't plan, you can't predict your responses. Your instinctive life always contradicts whatever you might have mapped out with your mental life. Vicky thinks she knows it all and of course she doesn't. Anyone who goes around saying they know it all doesn't."
The spark that sets these smoldering relationships ablaze is Juan Antonio's ex-wife, fiery artist Maria Elena, played by Penelope Cruz. She admires how Woody Allen got them to make a comedy that did not seem funny at the time.
"He made all of us forget that we were doing a comedy," Cruz says. "Everyone was taking things very seriously. My character suffers a lot and I felt like I was doing the most serious drama until I saw the movie with an audience and I thought 'what are they laughing about? This is very serious.' Then half an hour later I said 'of course!' I really, really forgot that when I read the script I laughed, but never again until I saw the movie with an audience."
Writer-director Allen has used comedy to explore relationships in other films; but he says in this case the settings and the characters came together in a different way.
"I had the idea about two women going away on a summer thing someplace; and then someone called from Barcelona and said 'would you like to make a picture here? We'll finance it.' That is always the hardest part of any picture is getting the financing," says Allen. "Writing it, directing it ...anything else is easier than getting the financing for it. So I said sure I would do it. Then about a week or two later I got a call from Penelope Cruz, who I didn't know. She said she knew I was doing a picture in Barcelona and she would like to participate. Then I heard Javier was interested and gradually the thing took shape and I was writing for these people ...deliberately writing for Penelope and Javier and Scarlett."
Vicky Cristina Barcelona also features Patricia Clarkson and Chris Messina; and the film was shot on location in Spain where Woody Allen has decided to make at least two more films.