Woody Allen’s latest offering sees him steer away from the metropolis and the disaffected types who dwell in New York and London. Instead, Allen seeks to explore how the Europeans live and he presents a comic clash between American sensibilities and European liberalism.
The stubborn and sensible Vicky (Rebecca Hall) has come to Spain to research Catalan culture for her thesis, the transient and passionate Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) joins her for the summer. One evening, in a tapas bar, Cristina, love-struck by Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) throws caution to the wind and agrees to a spontaneous weekend away with this passionate painter. The weekend ends, leaving the obstinate Rachel frustrated and questioning her future with her chino-wearing-investment-banking fiancé. Herein starts the love triangle.
The addition of Juan’s ex wife, the explosive, chain-smoking Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) adds a new dynamic to the narrative with the sharp tongued, fast paced conversations she and Juan have, or should I say, shout. Cruz’s character is there to show the despair, passion, freedom and restraints that encircle every relationship. Maria Elena is an exaggeration, but Cruz’s is not – her acting is fantastic in this film and worthy of her awards.
The characters are all likeable, even the smooth talking, womanising Juan. Each one has pre-conceptions of love and each fail to realise it. It’s not sad, it’s more a reflection of the true nature of love – it does change, it doesn’t always meet our expectations, we always search for perfection.
There’s the loveless marriage of companionship living vicariously through their young guests, the artist who seeks to replace and destroy the love he has for his ex-wife, the ex-wife who cannot live with or without love, the idealist who dreams of something intangible, the New Yorker who loves normality and security and the insecure girl who loves the idea that she could be more exciting than her friend.
The setting is a bit kitsch. Having been to Barcelona, I’m pretty sure there’s more to the city than Gaudi, tapas, Picasso and Spanish guitar – but this film would make you think otherwise. The colours are vibrant - reds, oranges and warm hues that saturate each scene signalling the undercurrent of passion seeping out the edges of each scene.
I wouldn’t say this film is a triumph, and will not appeal to fans of classic Allen hits like Manhattan, but the subject matter is interesting and the acting superb; with a special mention to Oscar winning Penelope Cruz.
Best Scene: Marie Elena's acid tongue Spanish comebacks having lunch with Juan and Cristina in the garden of his house. The enraged Javier and the innocent hospitality of Cristina.