It is hard not to think of Woody Allen's wonderfully titled new movie, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," as a gorgeous film about gorgeous people. There were times that my jaw dropped slack, involuntarily, at either the gently floating camera that can't quite seem to keep focus, or the extremely beautiful women on screen. And, honestly, I loved every minute of it. I think Vicky is easily Woody's best effort as of late, and my favorite since "Hannah and Her Sisters," which came out in 1986.
To begin, I would like to talk about a small moment in the film that kind of encapsulated my experience. Patricia Clarkson's character, Judy, is trying to convince Vicky to leave her fiance. Vicky is still young enough to leave her unhappy relationship, while Judy, although equally unhappy, is older and has lost the courage to act. Vicky refuses Judy's advice and tells her, "You're trying to re-write your past through me." The scene promptly ends after this revelation.
And then, it hit me: I did not know what to think.
Woody writes intelligent characters. These are people who, for all of their emotional insecurities and faults, are studying for their PhD., are well versed in Goya, are in tune to the psychology of the people around them. In a film with less intelligent, or perhaps just less talkative characters, it would be left to the audience to come to Vicky's conclusion. It would be we in the theater who think through a scene and then find in the subtext of the dialogue that, yes, Judy is re-writing her past through Vicky.
Woody has a knack for bringing this subtext to the foreground, but once he does, I'm not sure what to think any more. My knee-jerk reaction is to meet intelligence with intelligence; I think about what it would mean to be the kind of person who lays bare this subtext. That doesn't really get me anywhere, though. So then I think about what it means to the genre to make the hidden visible. Okay -- now we're on track. Of course a film that is layered with a sardonic, clinical narrator would be about characters that move their inner lives outward. It's actually a nice structural move, to give the narrator the job of Fate and at the same time make the characters intensely aware of this fate, while not necessarily being able to change it.
Then, after about ten minutes of mulling over this scene, trying to follow the logical threads, I can't help but come to another conclusion: am I just being made into a Woody-esque academic neurotic?
As I said, practically every internal thought is brought out in the movie, and the narration works complimentary to that, falling away and arriving again just in time to tell the character's future or lend a strange overtone to the current action on screen. I laughed at the narrator's subtly ridiculous fervor as he describes Cristina practicing "her photography," just the same as I was moved by the sadness with which he sends Vicky away at the end of the film.
"Vicky" is not necessarily a film about youth or young characters. Rather, I see the film as a story about people in different stages of the same kind of relationship, and the age of the characters is secondary to the age of the relationship. By coincidence, I saw the film with a friend that is going through much of the same tension as Vicky -- my friend has her Doug, her infidelities, and maybe it was my proximity to her that made the film seem very emotionally exact when dealing with these problems. And, maybe it is this proximity that should convince me that the film is an attempt from an old man to deal with young problems.
I'm not sure. I don't know the answers to my own questions about the film, and I love it for that. I will return to "Vicky" and, as my life, my writing, and my tastes change, I will reform my opinion on it. This is not to say that I will think better or worse of it, but that the movie is something that I can already see is changing with me. For now I can wander around the summer in which the film takes place and ask questions of it as I go. And I'm sure, every few years, I'll revisit Barcelona with the answers I've been looking for, and surely new questions.