Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Woody Allen

Woody Allen's new picture, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” receives its world premiere at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival as on out of competition official selection.

Honoring Barcelona

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a film that is indelibly linked to its location. When I began writing the script, I wasnt thinking of anything other than creating a story that had Barcelona as a character, says Allen. I wanted to honor Barcelona, because I love the city very much, and I love Spain in general, he says. Its a city full of visual beauty and the sensibility of the city is quite romantic. A story like this could only happen in a place like Paris or Barcelona.

When the films title characters Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) arrive for their summer in Barcelona, they are at very different stages in their lives. Vicky has a plan ahead of her, says Hall. Shes getting married, shes getting her Masters, shes moving out of the city and shes going to have babies. She feels that everything is falling into place as expected. Cristina, on the other hand, is completely at loose ends: she just broke up with her boyfriend and has walked away from a short film she worked on for six months (and now hates). Cristina is kind of a wandering lost soul, says Johansson. Shes aimless and doesnt really know what she wants. Shes exploring her youth with no responsibility and coasting wherever the road takes her.

Life Choices

Allen sees contrasting advantages and trade-offs for the life choices the two women make. A person whos more conventionally middle-class like Vicky, stands to have what most people would consider a happier life, says Allen. Its a more structured, a more stable, and a more well-functioning life. It may not achieve any goals she has that are beyond it, but shell have a good life with her husband, whos a nice guy, and it will be fine. Whereas a character like Cristina has less of a chance of satisfying herself, because shes always looking, and she only knows what she doesnt want. But shell have a more varied menu, until maybe someday shell get lucky and something will drop into her lap.

In Spain, Vicky and Cristina are drawn into a series of romantic entanglements involving two intense and passionate Spaniards, the painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and his fiery ex-wife Maria Elena (Penlope Cruz). Despite being head over heels in love, the two of them are always in bitter conflict for reasons neither one of them fully understand. They tried many times to be together, says Cruz. It always ended in a very bad way, but they keep trying. The pain from the failure of their relationship hangs heavily over Juan Antonio. Hes a man with a wound to be healed, says Bardem, as a person, as an artist and in his relationship with Maria Elena. Its like theres a sign that is flashing over his body all the time. But his way of dealing with his fears is to face them. Juan Antonios most conspicuous quality is his ability to speak with complete candor at all times. Hes not an ambivalent person, says Bardem. Thats why hes so direct. He needs to tell the truth and that creates some funny and also hard moments for other people.

While Juan Antonio is a no-nonsense and relatively easy-going person, Maria Elena is a whirling emotional tornado, endangering everyone in her path. Maria Elena is great at everythingplaying the piano, paintingbut she cant really do anything with her life because shes too nuts, says Allen. Shes too full of passion, too full of feeling, and it ruins her from really accomplishing things in a certain sense. He continues, Shes too full of jealousy and willing to stick a knife in somebody because she feels so deeply about everything. Penlope Cruz thinks Maria Elenas problem is that shes unhappy: She suffers tremendously. Its not easy for her to deal with her mind. All the chaos that she bringsI think she cant help herself. I dont think its something she does just to get attention. It comes from being totally confused in many ways and very scaredand at the same time very brave.

Colliding Worlds

The two worlds of the film collide when Juan Antonio approaches Vicky and Cristina in a restaurant with a proposal in his signature direct style: accompany him to the small Asturian town of Oviedo, where they will take in the local sights, eat and drink well, and all make love. Vickys thinking, Who is this horrid European artist sleazeball clich says Hall. She wants to get Cristina away from him as quickly as possible. But as the story reveals, Vicky is mistaken in her judgment of Juan Antonio. He is a very unusual man and his offer is not the crude come-on it first appears to be.

Juan Antonio is truly overwhelmed by their beauty and their personalities, says Bardem, and he tries to create a different kind of relationship between the three of them. Sexuality is a very important experience for him, but its not the endits the beginning of something much more important. He really has a different way of perceiving life. I guess from an ethical point of view thats not fair to everybody, but Juan Antonios ethics are different from what some people might expect, and thats one of the keys to this story. Bardem and Allen agree. Hes thinking with no guile, says Allen. Hes a very decent guy and to him, lovemaking is just one part of life. A nice part of life.

While in Oviedo, Juan Antonio intuits that Vicky may not be clear-headed as she presents herself. Vicky is seemingly together, says Hall, but shes a little too vehemently together, a little bit the lady doth protest too much. Shes capable of wanting all sorts of things which are much more romantic and wild, but its hard for her to take risks because she has always been very in control and she doesnt trust herself when things are outside her control. She doesnt know how crazy she might go.

Allen believes that Vicky has difficulty with too much freedom. She might flirt now and then with doing something more adventurous, but what she really wants is the safety of a less risky formula existence. Hall thinks Vickys plight expresses one of the larger questions the film is posing about love. I think Woodys looking into the tension between the fantasy-land of love and the real world, she says. The things you live with as opposed to the things you dream about. And then what happens when your fantasies intrude on your real world.

Success and Failure of Relationships

In this film, as he has done since “Annie Hall,” Allen explores the success and failure of relationships through the psychology of the characters, rather than through the external devices of formulaic Hollywood love stories. People are very complicated and relationships are very hard to sustain because people have incredibly detailed needs, says Allen. And if these needs are not met, you get annoyed. Its exactly like Juan Antonio says in the movie, if theres one element missing, it can be like salt or something from your dietyouve got your Vitamin A and C and Niacin and Iron-but if you dont have some tiny little element, it can kill you. It could also be an added element that changes the chemistry, like the presence of a sibling, a mother, a best friend, a boss, a shrink, or a change of occupation.

In the case of Juan Antonio and Maria Elena, the two of them fight like cats and dogs all the time even though they are passionately crazy about each other. But the presence of Cristina in the chemical equation somehow makes it possible for their relationship to work. They channel enough of their affection to Cristina and Cristina to them, and Cristina drains off some of the anger and irritation or makes it less heated.