29 September 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen's films are almost always about simple stuff that middle or upper-middle class people do or find themselves involved, be it love, money, relationship, life and death. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is his latest film to date and it makes viewers wishing to forget their bleak and gloomy present and fly to Barcelona to enjoy the European sunshine and late night relaxation.

The film is simple yet elegant, touching upon human follies and cowardice when faced with choice. We have two main characters: Vicky, the stern and uptight woman working on a dissertation on Catalan identity, and Cristina, a carefree spirit on the pursuit of real happiness. The two fall for Juan Antonio, a painter who is charming and spontaneous, tending to let his emotion overcome reason. Thus, it's not surprising that Juan Antonio and Cristina hit it off pretty quickly, yet what's even more astonishing is that he manages to turn Vicky's life upside down, as she realises that she's not really in love with the man she's about to marry in two weeks' time.

So what we see here in the film is that love or attachment is no longer a two-way interaction; it's much more complicated than that. Somehow Cristina's relationship with Juan Antonio helps him relate to his ex-wife Maria Elena better. In the same way, Juan Antonio's relationship with Vicky casts a new light on her long-term relationship with Doug. Perhaps what Allen is doing is to show the audience that love is not simply an intimate relationship between two people, but involves the issues of comparison and contrast. One needs to look at other relationships in order to gauge one's own. In addition, Allen manages to convince that these issues of comparison and contrast can also bring catastrophic consequences to a relationship.

However, the ending doesn't promise any solution. It's really life-like in that Cristina's search for happiness or meaning of life still goes on, while Vicky settles for her bourgeois marriage with Doug. Perhaps what Juan Antonio says is right: life hasn't got any meaning, so why not just enjoy it?

In a way, Vicky Cristina Barcelona involves the politics of place, as Barcelona is seen as changing the characters' mindsets and helping them towards self-discovery (a journey that by no means promises satisfaction). In Barcelona, New Yorkers learn to discover their desire (not unlike the Italians' journey to Turkey in Hamam or the Germans' trip to Italy in Death in Venice). Yet, one wonders whether Allen here dwells too much on stereotypes. But he's nonetheless successful in making this film a commercial for Spanish tourism.

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