Rating: Rated M (mature themes)
Towards the end of Woody Allen’s comedy of manners and morals (and lack of them), Vicki (Rebeccah Hall) tells Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) that Judy (Patricia Clarkson), the friend in whom she confided her own misgivings about her marriage was really working out her own problems. Earlier Judy had confided in Vicky, remarking that the way she told Vicki her story was just the way she had told it to her therapist.
Does it mean – probably, yes – that Woody Allen himself as writer and director is telling us the stories he tells to his therapist and is trying to work out his own problems. Since Allen made this film in his early 70s, this is a further cause for wondering.
The theme is love in its various forms.
Two American students, Vicki and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) arrive for a summer in Barcelona, Vicki, the serious one who is engaged and is working on a thesis on Catalan identity, Cristina has just finished a 12 minute film on love and is still searching, believing in passion and pain and romantic love. They are almost immediately bowled over (well, Cristina, anyway) by a charming painter, Juan Antonio, whose philosophy of life is centred in art and in in-the-moment hedonism. His attentions affect each of them in quite different ways. Vicki learns more about her passionate and impulsive side. Cristina learns a little, especially some talent in photography, but is still searching.
The other complication is Maria Elena, Juan Antonio’s passionate (no, that is an understatement) ex-wife.
Despite Woody Allen’s still not having worked out the real meaning of love and having presented us with varied experiences, some deep, some callow, there are many things to enjoy about this film. Barcelona looks marvellous as does Oviedo. He captures Spain with a mixture of the director’s and tourist’s eye. And, after the cold-blooded murders at the centre of his last three, British-based, films, it is something of a relief that here there are only Mediterranean outbursts and threats.
The acting is top-notch, although Scarlett Johannson is quite effaced by the intelligent and magnetic performance of Rebeccah Hall. Penelope Cruz as Maria Elena is electric, firing up the screen. Javier Bardem is more restrained (especially after No Country for Old Men) and quite engaging.
So, where to next as Woody Allen advances into his 70s?
Hopscotch Out December 26.
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic