Vicky Cristina Barcelona Review

The Film

“Pleasant” is a fitting adjective to describe Vicky Cristina Barcelona. “Insubstantial” is another. When the lights came up at the end of Woody Allen’s latest romantic drama - or should that be dramatic romance? - I was very much left with the impression that not a lot had actually transpired in the space of its 96-minute duration. Then again, perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise: the director’s work of late has been patchy at best, with each new offering being tenuously heralded by one camp as a return to form and decried by another as conclusive proof that he is a has-been.

The film sees best friends and complete opposites Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Sarclett Johansson) traipsing off to Barcelona (where else?) for the summer. While there, they cross paths with the seductive Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a volatile artist who immediately sets about working his charms on both of them. Vicky, already engaged to the blandly well-to-do Doug (Chris Messina), initially spurns Juan Antonio’s advances but clearly harbours feelings for him, while Cristina readily plunges headlong into a turbulent affair with the hot-blooded painter. Enter Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), a fiercely jealous harpy who once tried to kill him... or he tried to kill her... or something.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona doesn’t really work as a comedy, as it’s not particularly funny (Penélope Cruz’s “You tried to kill me... with a chair!” notwithstanding), nor as a drama, as there’s no real depth to the characterisation and its observations about relationships rarely get more complicated than “love’s a bitch”. It’s also hamstrung by the frankly baffling decision to insert screed after screed of redundant, awkwardly delivered narration, which serves no purpose but to describe what’s happening on screen or how the characters are supposed to be feeling. At first, there’s something mildly amusing about just how redundant it is, but it quickly becomes clear that it isn’t a joke. There’s something strikingly indifferent about every aspect of the production, from the characterisation to the dialogue to the direction itself, to the extent that I’m convinced Allen’s heart wasn’t really in it.

The best thing about the film is undoubtedly Penélope Cruz, whose arrival midway through is almost enough to jolt it out of the complacency into which it has fallen. It’s fair to say that Cruz, the only one who appears to actually be enjoying herself, steals the show, although that’s not to say that the rest of the cast don’t acquit themselves well. Indeed, talented British actress Rebecca Hall does a remarkable job of remaining convincing in the thankless leading role, effectively serving as a female variant of the sort of part Allen would have played himself in his younger days. (She also sports a wholly convincing American drawl into the bargain.) Scarlett Johansson is fine in her third role for the director, making less of an impression despite having the showier part, while Javier Bardem is solid as the fiery artist who comes between them.

It’s a shame to be reduced to describing these skilled actors’ performances as “fine” and “solid”, but these adjectives ably sum up Vicky Cristina Barcelona as a whole. It never grates and despite the languid pacing doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it effectively serves as a void for the hour-and-a-half that its perfunctory love triangle takes to play out. Woody Allen has done far better and will probably do far better again, with this film serving as a minor but inoffensive footnote to his impressive filmography.

The Disc

The 1.85:1, VC-1 encoded 1080P image on Optimum’s Region B disc looks rather pleasing on the whole. Ever the classicist, Allen opted to do his colour timing in the lab rather than processing the film digitally, and, while the image does look rich for the most part, any shots involving opticals do end up taking a hit as far as detail is concerned. Unfortunately, he’s is a little too fond of optical fades, which means that a fair number of shots are affected in this manner. The whole film has a deliberate orange-yellow glow, which is perhaps a little on the oppressive side but is undoubtedly down to artistic intent rather than any problem with the disc itself.

As for the audio, the dual-channel mono PCM track is perfectly serviceable, ably demonstrating that wall-to-wall surround sound is not a prerequisite for a satisfying presentation. Optional English subtitles are provided; these are accurate and clear.

As one would expect with a Woody Allen film, there are no extras here, sans the theatrical trailer, an ill-defined standard definition upconversion that has been poorly deinterlaced.

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Category Blu-Ray Review

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