Monday, December 08, 2008

Screening Room Delight

Woody Allen comes and goes, consistency is not in his cinematic character. His good pictures are so good that it would be churlish to complain about the bad ones. So let’s not even bother to mention them.

VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA is one of his good films; good enough, maybe, to be his very best film. The basic premise seems a little old shoe and is as comfortably familiar: two young, cold climate ladies spend a warming summer in Spain where inhibitions will melt and passions flare. The ladies are lovely and the vistas are enticing but the obviousness of the setup is merely a tease. The title suggests a triangle. Vicky is the drone. Christina is a scatterbrain and Barcelona, especially in the form of Juan Antonio, is the seducer. But then Maria Elena enters the equation. And Doug. And the triangle shifts like a turning kaleidoscope, always surprising yet always symetrical. The genre is romantic comedy, but with a twist, or two. There are plenty of laughs, but the romance is more desired than achieved, though there is plenty of sex in its pursuit. Intelligence and logic are not sacrificed to the familiar audience desire for heroic posturing and closure.

Woody’s script and directing play out as light, casual and improvisatory. His career is noted for films influenced by intense European autuer directors. None of those influences are notable in VCB. This may be reaching, but I feel somewhat the influence of the New Orleans jazz that Allen loves and performs at a regular venue in Manhattan. His actors don’t seem to be acting as much as being finely tuned instruments who are able to play themselves with great range and tone. There are no overt displays of effort or cleverness, just a naturalness and believability that draws us into their lives and makes us care about them. In an ensemble performance such as this, all performers may take an equal bow. Whether doing a solo turn or dropping to backup, the teamwork is a delight to watch. And a few months from now I will do so again, on DVD. What fresh nuances will I discover?


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