Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Woody Allen



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Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Woody Allen Review

The subject matter of the paper is to analyze methods and techniques that Woody Allen applies to show viewers the core sense of the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The work is aimed to analyze textual theme, style and directing, genre, a system of imaginative approaches, sound, cinematography, actors’ acting.  It explores Woody Allen’s skills to organize the textual material in a life journey that prompts viewers to interpret and comprehend every character’s step.

Woody Allen is famous for his ironic, subtle depiction of human stories, in which comedy borders on drama. His film Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) is an illustrative example of the director’s approach and a manifesto of his philosophy. The film reveals the vision of love as travel, which is enjoyable, but never predictable. It focuses on the love stories of several people who are lost in their feelings and desires. The director does not suggest to a viewer his way unravel the intervened lives of the characters.  He depicts people’s lives and prompts them to interpret and comprehend their actions, choices, decisions, which are complex, unpredictable, and perplexed by twists of fortune.  The idea that is exposed by the director is to take life as it is, as unexpected travel or game.

The film starts when two American girls, Vicky and Cristina, come to Barcelona at the invitation of Cristina’s distant relatives. Neither of them works, Vicky is working on her dissertation on Catalonian culture, while Cristina has been shooting her twelve-minute film for half a year. These touches of their biography underline their split from real life and real hardships. Although Vicky is more pragmatic, both of them are full of romanticism and illusions about their life. They believe that Barcelona is a magical place that can give a new vision of their lives and solve their internal conflicts. The reverse happens. Their conflicts get more dramatic when they meet a Spanish artist, Juan Antonio. Their interaction with him makes them more lost uncertain about their lives and relationships. They reveal the traits of character, which are unexpected for them, and act unreasonably, based on emotions. The city is full of passion and romance, but this is just a reflection of their hidden selves. The boredom of their usual life becomes obvious to them among the fiesta of the beautiful city, but this boredom is not to be cured by a new place. Their staying in Spain and meeting people stirs their soul and feelings, it gives them new experiences, but it does not change them completely.

Considering the scheme that Woody Allen chose for the dramatic action, it is worth mentioning that the whole plot is based on a triangle. One of the critics states “the film is continually suggesting trios; the ménage à trois is its underlying structure (Vicky Cristina Barcelona review, 2008). The title of the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona creates a trio of characters, Barcelona being one of them. Other triangles of the film are Vicky-Cristina-Juan Antonio, Juan Antonio-Cristina- Maria Elena, Juan Antonio- Vicky- Maria Elena, Vicky- Doug-Juan Antonio. Choosing love triangles as the model to present his ideas, the director demonstrates the fact that people are never pleased with their relationships. If everything is perfect, the characters cannot make it last forever because they feel a certain element is missing.

No wonder that Cristina cannot express what she wants. Other characters are the same, and this is what makes them suffer and hesitate all the time. This conflict is tragic because people are never saturated with the available people, and if they change a partner for the one who seems more desired. They eventually feel the same dissatisfaction. The point about their emotional state is first of all emptiness, which they have inside, and which they want to fill with another person. They are all vulnerable and do not open to another person completely to avoid pain. Vicky is vulnerable because she feels a certain personality split between reason and passion. Juan Antonio is vulnerable because of his painful relationship with Maria Elena, a mixture of love, hate, and madness. Such an unhealthy emotional state keeps his vigor, which is essential for him as an artist. As a director, Woody Allen is ironic about the art world and its exalted attitude to life. So, that is why he uses such stylistic devices as grotesque and slapstick, when portraying Maria Elena, and his relationship with Juan Antonio. Her neurosis and violence are exaggerated, which creates an effect of theatricality.

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When telling the story, the director also demonstrates another reason why his characters are always dissatisfied and suffering. Comparing his later film Midnight in Paris, the characters are always enchanted by sweet illusions, which seem more attractive to them than real life. This is probably why Woody Allen chooses the beautiful Barcelona as a setting for his film. Like most tourists, Vicky and Christina romanticize the place and hence become more adventurous and courageous. This is especially true of Vicky who seems to change her cold and reasonable character for a more passionate and desperate one. She seems to be able to take risks for the sake of Juan Antonio, but in the end, she realizes that she does not dare, as real life is far from her romantic illusions. Besides, it appears that she, like Cristina, does not know what she wants from relationships. She is accustomed to the stability that Doug gives her, but she feels as she lacks some madness. However, she is not able to change to be as mad as Cristina or Maria Elena. This idea that people are not able to change even if they try hard is one of the key messages of the film. “At its core, the film is about the way its two central characters apply a tourist mentality to the entirety of their lives, skipping over the surface and never letting anything touch them too deeply... By the end of the film, both girls have flirted with and subsequently stepped back from the experiences offered them, preferring comfort and the known to the dangerous passions and adventures of the unknown” (Vicky Cristina Barcelona review, 2008).

Sound is probably one of the most crucial elements of the film that contributes to the overall atmosphere combined with the magnificent sights of Barcelona. The catchy song Barcelona by Guilia e Los Tallarini band is the leitmotif of the whole film and adds to its spectacular atmosphere of lightness and adventure. Whenever a seemingly serious episode emerges, the song mitigates the excess seriousness in a moment. The spirit of a traveler who is relaxed and watches the world with his eyes open is reflected in the soundtrack. Love is a game. Life is a play. People seem to be hurt, but the sound softens this effect and reminds the viewers that they are in the middle of life travel, so every loss is like a town that is left behind.

It is remarkable how the song works perfectly in combination with wise editing. It serves as a marker that separates one scene and episode from the other. Because the song plays repeatedly in the movie, this reveals the idea of the cyclic nature of life. In the final scene when Vicky and Cristina leave the city, their faces with signs of loss and dreaming are accompanied by the song. Remarkably, both Vicky and Cristina leave Barcelona in the same status and with the same illusions but with a new experience. Nothing has changed their models of behavior and way of thinking. A trip to Barcelona might have been an adventure and emotional insight, but they are at the same point with no prospect of change. Cristina is in a continuous search of her occupation and the type of relationship that will satisfy her one day. Vicky is married to Doug and understands that she cannot realize herself as a woman with him, but she is not able to alter anything. “Vicky Cristina concludes by showing that all the main characters must simply fall back into their old ways. People generally do not change in a Woody Allen movie; they just find their proper levels” (Alleva, 2008).

Regarding the soundtrack, it is worth mentioning the Spanish guitar that is the symbol of passion and freedom. It accompanies the scenes of Vicky’s staying with Juan Antonio and serves to reveal the hidden part of her nature, which she hides behind the mask of pragmatism and reason. At the same time, it is impossible to deny that being a comedy, the film uses certain stereotypes, which makes it funny. The Spanish guitar is also the same stereotype, by which foreign tourists are attracted. When depicting a love scene, Woody Allen is on the borderline of being romantic and ironic about the situation and life in general.

There is another interesting aspect about storytelling because of Allen’s choice to include a narrator who tells the whole story in a detached tone and without emotional involvement. This affects the viewers who have to balance from emotion to reason, depending on whether they are affected by the narrator or the characters at a particular moment. Needless to say, this gap between the action and its telling reveals an idea that impression always depends on the focus. On the one hand, it seems like the narrator makes the plot and the characters look more shallow and commonplace than they are. On the other hand, it is made clear that despite their differences people are actually about the same. The director states that people never change, choose the same patterns of behavior, repeat their own mistakes, and follow each other by playing the same games. Besides, it is the presence of a narrator that adds irony to the whole story, which would otherwise look either excessively bizarre or too expressive. The cool, reasonable vision of the narrator is contrasted with the characters’ passions, and this creates a comic effect. One of the critics writes about the narration“This sensitivity to emotional complexity belies the blunt simplicity of the voiceover, which is always reducing such moments to clichés. The toneless narrator can only state facts, and his dry recitations are redundant when they are followed, as they are several times, by lingering closeups on Hall's face, catching the mysterious quality of a smile spreading across her long face, or the way her dark eyes seem mesmerized by a beautiful guitar song. Woody proves himself much more attuned to the emotional stakes of his story than the narrator, and his images are constantly undermining the distance created by the voiceover device” (Vicky Cristina Barcelona Review, 2008).

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Thus, the clash between the narrator and the action of the film is obvious, and the director leaves it to the viewers to decide whether they want to take sides with the characters and get involved in their emotions, or they just want to enjoy the comedian side of the whole story.

Although it might seem at first that Allen associates himself with the narrator and his irony, it is not always true. The director is fascinated by the characters, which is evident analyzing his love for close-ups. The work of the camera, specific for many of Allen’s films, proves the fact that he is more character-oriented than a plot-oriented director. He is the one who prefers to admire the face and expression of a certain hero for a while rather than to take action faster. There are many scenes in the films when the characters’ dialogue is intensified by the close-ups of their faces while they are speaking. For instance, an interesting contrast is created when viewers can have a close look at Vicky’s face. A masterpiece of a performance delivered by Rebecca Hall demonstrates a burning split of her personality when she is torn between being a good girl and the potential passionate and adventurous personality that she has inside. The sharp clash between her words when she tries hard to stay cool and her face that cannot hide excitement and passion is marvelous.  Girgus (2002)

states “The humor of self-deprecation, the confessional mode of discourse, the revelations of emotional and psychological weakness and impotence, the jokes about masturbation, and the expressions of personal venality and misdeeds all insinuate an intensity of authenticity and sincerity that create a veneer of impregnable credibility about his character. The deeper we get into him the more we believe him. Personal imperfection makes him more human and real. In classic Allen films, his weaknesses become familiar as admirable traits that constitute his unique individuality and genius”(p. 5).

This touch of imperfection is present in all characters of Allen, although they seem stunning and glossy at first sight. Each of them is weird in his or her way, although their bizarre traits are exaggerated sometimes. Conflicts and dissatisfaction in relations arise without any particular reason because of the inadequacy of seemingly normal people. People are striving for something different and unfamiliar, though they do not know exactly what they want.

Cristina is a character that embodies this type of person. If the character of Vicky is more conflicting but is clearer at the same time, it is more difficult to understand Cristina. As Scarlet Johannson confesses “The hardest thing about playing Cristina was finding her purpose, her motivation. She is a sort of aimless character who has no real passion in life”. Johansson demurs “I don't think that the full spectrum of love is represented by all of the characters in this film”(Breen, 2008, p. 52).

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Vicky Christina Barcelona is a recognizable movie created in Woody Allen style. The director depicts human life and love affairs as endless travel that can impress but not transform a person deeply. He focuses on the characters than on the plot, and maneuvers between a comedy and a light drama. He believes that people remain the same even though they have new opportunities, which they eventually are unable to take. The director believes that probably it is the best option to taste new experiences but stay in a place that is more convenient and suitable, even though less alluring. That is why traveling to a foreign country is so metaphoric about the character’s fate. It is worth traveling for a while but staying forever is going to kill the magnetic charm that a tourist’s perspective gives. 

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