Sunday, February 22, 2009

sólo el amor puede ser incumplida romántico

The most annoying element of Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the voiceover narration. Sometimes it makes you feel you are watching a documentary on Travel and Living. In an interesting way, it is also the most redeeming feature of the movie. It's like Mr. Woody Allen washing his hands off any glitches in scripting. It's like Mr. Allen is saying, "See, these are my people. I didn't have anything to do with them, they were like this only. Hell I don't have an effing clue what they'd be up to next. I'm only here to tell their story. Watch them if you like. If you don't, I'm sure some plexes are still showing The Dark Knight."

The unusual thing about the narrative is that it reads out in broad detail the nuances of characters rather than allow the script to reveal them slowly through their actions. In fact the action only serves to corroborate what has already been said in the voiceover. I'll give an example.

(This is the voiceover script during the third minute of screen time when Vicky and Cristina make their appearance)
The two had been close since college, and shared the same tastes and opinions on most matters, Yet when it came to the subject of love, it would be hard to find two more dissimilar viewpoints. Vicky had no tolerance for pain, and no lust for combat. She was grounded and realistic. Her requirements in a man were seriousness and stability. She had become engaged to Doug because he was decent and successful, and understood the beauty of commitment. Cristina, on the other hand, expected something very different out of love. She reluctantly accepted suffering as an inevitable component of deep passion and was resigned to putting her feelings at risk. If you asked what she was gambling her emotions on to win, she would have been unable to say. She knew what she didn't want, however. And that was exactly what Vicky valued above all else.

Makes you wonder if you are at a theater or a book reading session, yes, but you have to give him an A for audaciousness. Don't know if it's just me, but the way the movie begins with the narrator launching into character analysis of the protagonists, it reminded me of Springtime a' la Carte. (Now where's the connection? read on, before you jump and shout) It seemed the director's way of saying, like O'Henry did in his time, "look, n00bs, a film is not written like this. Never, never, do this at the beginning of a script that you write. (Of course I can pull it off, because I'm Woody Allen)".

Does it work? Well, after a fashion, to a large extent, give or take a few vagaries of the plot, it does. Me, I'm not your Woody Allen aficionado, but many people in the know are calling this one of his best. To my mind, it has the feel of an European director's film rather than one from an American raised in Brooklyn. Think Bertolucci if you will. Though that may be largely attributable to the backdrop. While watching VCB, I was intermittently reminded of Stealing Beauty, because the central idea of young American women rediscovering themselves among unknown people in a beautiful foreign land is common for both films. Interestingly, within this genre too this one is unique. Here, the life of the protagonists remain exactly the same at the end of 96 minutes of storytelling. Only thing they possibly take away from it are the life-defining experiences of a summertime.

How did the characters play? I love Javier Bardem. It's a pity I've seen very little of him.(only No Country last year, got to watch more espanol movies) He makes it look entirely feasible for an intriguing stranger to walk up to the table of two totally unknown young ladies and propose upfront a weekend tour to another city involving art watching, good wine and food and wholesome sex. His character Juan Antonio the artist does this, and Bardem makes it look completely decent and good-humored. One can only wish one could do that in real life.
Penelope Cruz has been walking away with the awards. She has the author backed role which is the centre piece of this drama, and she plays it with perfect over the top panache'. But it's Scarlett Johansson who really impressed me with understatement. A petite bundle of genius, this young lady is.

If there's anything VCB teaches us, it is this. In life it's not always possible to know what you really want. But if you have a good idea what you don't want, it'll often do.


bongopondit said...

I am huge Woody Allen fan, and I don't think this is in any way even close to his best. Perhaps one of his best in the last decade, but that's hardly saying much.
But overall, a fun, entertaining film.

I am was bit irritated with the voice-over initially, but came to understand its necessity as the film wore on.

No comment on the music ?

Sud said...

loved vcb, not typical woody allen though.

And have heard a lot about Dev D, but none of the screens in manhattan showing that. Has great music too, have been listening to Imosanal Attyachar all day long

Partho said...

@ Bongo: Welcome back!
Well, you're probably right, I overreached a bit. What many critics were saying is Vcb is perhaps close to 8 if his best works like Hannah or The purple rose of Cairo gets 10 out of 10. Anyway I'll make it a point to watch more of his films in the coming month, and then perhaps we can talk.
About the music. The lilt of the Barcelona song stayed with me. The Spanish guitar pieces were good, but not earth-shattering.

@ Sud : Yes, not typically Woody Allen. It has shades of Almodover too, in addition to bertolucci.

All over India DevD is running to empty theaters. Even Greatbong reports an empty hall in D.C where he went to see the movie. Great music, and a very well-made movie. One day it will become a cult classic.