Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexuality, and smoking.
Length: 96 minutes
Grade: BD+CB=B-
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $101 million (23 U.S., 70 Intl., 8 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Woody Allen (Seriously?)
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz.

Summary: A smooth-talking Spanish artist tries to seduce two very different American women in Barcelona, one an emotional blonde aspiring artist and the other a judgmental planner brunette who is engaged to be married.

Entertainment Value: B
Alright, I rented this not realizing it was a Woody Allen movie. I do not rent Woody Allen movies unless somehow they rise above that particular deficit by being recommended to me by many people. That said, this was fairly interesting. The dialogue is fantastic, the cinematography is out of this world, and I like three of the four actors in this movie (Rebecca Hall is an unknown). The basic plot premise of sexual immorality winds up being somewhat of a non-factor because of the PG-13 and the way the plot develops in the end.

Superficial Content: D+
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D+, Violence C+, Language C, Illegality NA
There’s a lot of alcohol consumption and a fair amount of mild language, although I did note with real surprise that an “approved for all audiences” trailer on the front of the disk had the F word for reasons that escape me. There is some gunplay and talk of suicide. The biggest concern here is obviously sexuality, which is either implied or shown only from the neck up. The basic scenario entails everybody sleeping with everybody, including some infidelities.

Significant Content: C
I give it a C because I’m reluctant to give it credit for what I think is the real point here: that traditional morality, even when articulated by the mouths of the least appealing characters in the movie, still makes all sorts of sense because the alternative is chaos and dysfunction. If this movie ended after 80 minutes, it would be nothing but a tract for the sexual revolution and European sensibilities. But it didn’t end there, and the resulting message is very different. I don’t know if it works as a piece of persuasion, but it isn’t worthless as it could have been if cut off early. I think showing this to an artistic type and then discussing it afterward might be fairly useful. Reality never turns out to compare with a fantasy or an ideal. Emotionally enthusiastic people are unstable and possibly incapable of enduring happiness. Fear keeps us from pursuing the things we imagine might make us happy.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
The art, architecture, and music of this movie alone are wonderful. I can’t quite give it an A, however, since there is something fake about the whole movie. I don’t know whether it’s the too-loud and artificial-sounding voice-overs by the narrator or the feeling that, aside from brilliant cinematography, I was really watching a play rather than a movie. Nevertheless, the ideas are fascinating, and the characters certainly enduring in the viewer’s memory. Penelope Cruz won best supporting actress, and rightly so. But I think the most wonderful character her is Juan Antonio, who is wonderfully guileless and self-knowing.

Discussion Questions:
~Is Maria Elena correct that only unfulfilled love can be romantic? What is it about real life that tends to undermine romance? Or is this just a false idea of what romance is?
~Is suffering an inevitable component of deep love?
~Is love a risk or is love a form of security?
~Do you think this movie winds up being an endorsement of traditional morality or a criticism of it? How would these characters’ lives have been better if they had not been willing to experiment sexually? Would any of them have been worse off? How much of the misery of this movie is from premarital sex?
~Freud thought that there are basically two mechanisms which keep our impulses in check: the practical and the moral. Both of them contain fear elements. So when Judy tells Vicky to not be deterred by fear, what would you say to her? Is fear a useful thing?
~Can life have meaning without God? Does love provide that meaning? Is love transient or enduring?
~To what degree does the presence of beauty in architecture or landscape influence how we develop as people? Is Europe a richer place to grow up, for this reason? How important are the arts to a full human life?
~Is Cristina more worried about not having great ideas to express or more worried about not having enough skill in any truly artistic medium to express them? What does her photography symbolize compared with painting and music?
~What do you think of Juan Antonio’s father, who creates beautiful art and denies it to the public because after all this time they haven’t learned to love. What does this show about his concept of love? Consider what God might think about this.
~Why does Juan Antonio require Maria Elena to speak English around Cristina?
~How important is it for spouses to believe that they are capable of inspiring each other?
~Stereotypes abound in this movie, most notably of the emotionally dull businessman versus the vividly alive artists. Are such stereotypes useful or deceptive?
~Why is Juan Antonio so open and honest about his feelings, especially for Maria Elena when around the new women? Is this an effective interpersonal strategy? Is it related to him being an artist? Why do we tend to want to hide our feelings from others when we worry they might upset them?
~Despite this movie not having any (or very little) overt nudity, do you think PG-13 is the correct rating? Is this movie enticing people to lust and to experiment sexually?
~Do you think you must “try out” a person for awhile before you can know whether you’re compatible? Is this a selfish mindset or a generous one? Which sort of marriages are more prone to falling apart: those where people tried many partners and lived together or those where they tried few or none and abstained until marriage? Why?
Overall Grade: B-
Despite being a Woody Allen film, I liked it. Sort of. The architecture alone justifies the movie. It made me want to visit Spain, quite frankly.

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