February 2, 2009

Under the Spanish Sun

I am officially a Javier Bardem-shipper. From Before Night Falls, The Sea Inside, No Country for Old Men and now Vicky Cristina Barcelona, he always manages to mesmerize me. Here, he is the Latin lover, a passionate Spanish painter who seduces two American tourists with the promise of a Bohemian lifestyle. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is reserved and pragmatic, while Cristina(Scarlett Johansson) is adventuresome and impulsive. Their conflicting views on life and love are challenged by their encounter with Bardem's Juan Antonio. The two women stay with Patricia Clarkson's Judy (and her husband), who tries to keep the bethrothed Vicky from a dispassionate, dissatisfied life.

As if that wasn't enough, add Penelope Cruz's Maria Elena(Juan Antonio's artist ex-wife) to the mix and the sparks onscreen get even more electrifying.The ménage a trois becomes a parallelogram. Ms. Cruz is enthralling, bold and tempestuous. Her performances when speaking in her native tongue are always captivating. I'm glad she got an Academy Award nomination for this.

But to me, the real star of the movie is Spain. The movie is a love letter to Barcelona, and a picturesque little town called Oviedo. Like Under the Tuscan Sun, it makes me want to move to Europe. Gorgeous architecture, appetizing food and wine, stirring Spanish guitar music, bike rides along solitary country roads, beautiful artwork and gardens...Writer and director Woody Allen has found a new city to pay homage to, apart from his beloved New York City.


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