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Vicky Cristina Barcelona (12A)
The Spanish sun evidently proved a tonic for Woody Allen.
After a sojourn to London to make three very different and equally disappointing films (Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream), the writer-director heads to sunnier climes for this romantic comedy about two friends whose lives are turned upside down by the same passionate hombre.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is not vintage fare from the bespectacled New York filmmaker, who dissected the battle of the sexes so pithily with Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah And Her Sisters.
However, this picture postcard is a long overdue step in the right direction, with obvious financial backing from the Spanish tourist board, which accounts for the flattering shots of the Catalan capital and its architectural splendours.
Antoni Gaudi’s most famous buildings and the Picasso Museum contrast beautifully with the city’s bohemian and gothic quarters.
It’s a far cry from the drab, concrete vision of London, which emerged from Allen’s residency on these shores.
Flighty and single Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) and soon-to-be-married Vicky (Rebecca Hall) head to Barcelona for the summer where they stay with the latter’s relatives, Mark and Judy (Kevin Dunn and Clarkson).
Taking in the sights of the city, the young women catch the eye of artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who is the talk of the town because, as a local explains, "he had that fiery relationship with that beautiful woman who was nuts."
Cristina falls under Juan Antonio’s powerful spell and they embark on an affair, only for crazy ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), to reappear and stir up dormant desires.
A love triangle becomes a rhombus when Juan Antonio casts admiring glances at Vicky and she questions the depth of her feelings for her workaholic fiance, Doug (Chris Messina).
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a jaunty holiday romance that really catches fire when Oscar nominee Cruz slinks into shot, bringing a fiery, damaged quality to her sassy senora.
The film reaches its dramatic and comic crescendo as Cruz takes her character to the brink of emotional breakdown.
Sexual heat with Bardem overpowers any chemistry between the actor and Johansson and Hall, the latter adopting the neuroses and insecurities usually reserved for Allen himself.
An omnipresent voiceover could have been excised entirely, as could Judy’s subplot, a mirror of the central romantic dilemmas.