Spoiler Alert: If you intend to watch the movie, please read no further. Many plot details are revealed here which may interfere with your enjoyment of the film.
Over the span of a summer in Barcelona, close friends Vicky and Cristina discover another dimension to love and themselves. It’s both a typical Woody Allen movie and yet it’s not. There is the Woody Allenesque loquaciousness – characters talk a lot about their situations, their reactions and their ever-changing feelings.
Though Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are good friends, they have different romantic ideals, the voice over informs us. Vicky is the grounded one who has planned a certain life for herself, and intends on following it with her fiancé Doug. Cristina is the bohemian artist who is searching for the romantic ideal that books are written about. Will they find it in Barcelona? They do. And they also lose it. “Love is so transient”, says one of the characters, Juan Antonio.
But as usual I am getting ahead of myself. Vicky and Cristina are put up by a couple Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and Mark (Kevin Dunn), whose sole purpose is to provide a foil to the outwardly reckless lifestyle of Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). Mark and Judy live a beautiful life – at least on the surface – with their Mediterranean bungalow in Barcelona. Into this picture perfect Spanish holiday drops this anarchic force dressed in red. No, it’s not a woman for a change. But a man. Javier Bardem a.k.a. Juan Antonio is wildly creative, charmingly seductive, and dangerously Dionysian. And he has a proposition. At first, Vicky almost turns it down. But reluctantly follows to keep an eye on Cristina. Juan Antonio flies them down to a Spanish provincial town Oviedo to spend the weekend with him. Due to a weird twist in the plot, the one willing to try Juan out falls ill, and it’s Vicky who ends up sleeping with Juan Antonio. From this point onwards, the script functions exactly like life, going in all possible directions-expected and unexpected.
Cristina moves in with Juan Antonio and is joined by Maria Elena, the beautiful neurotic ex-wife of Juan Antonio. In a twist that I didn’t see coming, Maria Elena, Juan Antonio and Cristina start a relationship that fosters creativity and love in the three of them. Vicky in the meanwhile is tormented by her night of passion with Juan Antonio and hides it from Cristina. She marries Doug reluctantly even though her mind is on Juan Antonio. Judy (of the Mark and Judy pair introduced earlier) herself is searching for passion outside of her marriage. In short, no relationship is whole in this film. Everyone is searching for something; sometimes it’s within the relationship, sometimes outside.
Cristina, the eternal wanderer, decides to leave Juan Antonio and Maria Elena because she wants to continue this search. Vicky has one hilarious encounter with Juan Antonio for the last time before she resumes her planned life. All through this circus of love flows the thought that only unfulfilled life is romantic, voiced by the perceptive Maria Elena. And so the circle breaks, new circles are formed, and they in their turn break and the process goes on. Vicky and Cristina leave Barcelona with different experiences. Will that help them answer the eternal question – “Why is love so difficult to define?” (No coincidence that this is the theme for Cristina’s 12-minute acting attempt before she lands in Barcelona.) We don’t know. What we know is that the dynamics of love transcend time, space, and logic.
Javier Bardem has never suited the role of the anarchic artist more than in this movie. This is a more subtle performance than even Love in the Time of Cholera. Penelope Cruz is such a delight as the hot-blooded Spanish woman so in touch with her inner chaotic self. Scarlett Johansson pales in comparison to these two veterans. She’s effective as the young idealist. However, it’s Vicky’s character that changes the most and seems the most affected.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) is a visual treatise on burning questions like what is love, how long does it last, with whom etc. The ripe yellow light that bathes the film makes it look like things are on the cusp of fruition. Don’t forget the other most important character-the seductive Barcelona in the background doing her bit to woo the viewer! Gaudi’s asymmetrically beautiful fluid buildings landscape the film like a painter’s canvass and soulful stirrings of la musica de guitarra perfectly showcase this philosophical pursuit.
Watch Vicky Cristina Barcelona for Gaudi, Barcelona, and Penelope Cruz.