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Mere Anarchy
by Woody Allen
(A blend of goofy personal essay and literary parody)
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Vicki Cristina Barcelona"

Two beautiful women on a summer holiday in the exotic steamy city of Barcelona, Spain will have all the men they want to choose from, anytime. Filmmaker and comedy-drama writer Woody Allen makes it huge, farcical fun, and unique, with a style of dialogue and storytelling that's all his. Working with an inspired cast that adopts his rhythms and range, it pays off with another fine piece of Allen humor with tasty satiric bite.

Of the two friends, Cristina (Scarlet Johansson) is the heat-seeking, uninhibited one, likely to see something she likes (in the way of men) and go for it without an internal struggle. Vicky (Rebecca Hall, "The Prestige"), on the other hand, is restrained by neurotic warnings, fears, lack of confidence and the inconvenient fact of her impending marriage to Doug (Chris Messina, "Humboldt County").

So, Vicky is a bundle of misgivings when sexy, notorious Spanish painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, "Love In the Time Of Cholera") -- who, we have learned, divorced his wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) after she stabbed him) comes over to their table in a restaurant and invites them both to a weekend of sightseeing, companionship and the pleasures of the flesh at his boyhood home in the small town of Oviedo--and blond, gorgeous Cristina accepts!

The trip (in Juan Antonio's plane) doesn't go all that well and the whole premise falls apart when adventuress Cristina gets sick. Until, that is, when Vicky and the latin lover "happen" to meet and score a quick roll in the weeds. Vicky is now really confused, trying to maintain herself as the person marrying Doug and carrying the torch for Juan Antonio.

The complications mount when, before she can have another go at him, Juan Antonio and Cristina hook up again and she goes to live with him at his painterly digs in Barcelona. But, complications are only just beginning when Maria Elena returns to the only man who can deal with her suicidal tendencies and fiery disposition. Vicky can't believe it when her lover informs her that his ex-wife is going to stay with them for a few months.

Jealous as they are toward one another, animosity turns into admiration and a menage a' trois is joined. Still, nothing lasts. Contentment turns to flan (jello, say) as Cristina gives the Spanish couple their space and a chance to work their impossible relationship out.

A narrative voice relates the story in a straightforward manner which serves many a comedic turn of fate moment in the style Allen has perfected.

As one of the great dramatic actors of his time, Spanish-born Bardem was introduced to American audiences in the 2002 "The Dancer Upstairs," which won him great admiration. His scary drug trafficker in "Collateral" built on that and, later in 2004, a remarkable performance of a dying poet earned "The Sea Inside" an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. A riveting heavyweight, his capacity for the profound finally reached the film-going masses in "No Country For Old Men" in which he brought alarm and fascination to a serial killer. As "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" demonstrates, his talent is hardly one-dimensional and can turn his outsize charisma to timing and charm in a turn at comedy.

Johansson again delights us as a sexually impetuous girl who downplays the stir she can make by entering a room and occupies the skin of a thinking nymphet. The honesty she conveys in her work may be significantly exemplified in the wake-up scene--a closeup in which a major American actress wears no makeup! What a radical idea. I can only admire the courage or selflessness it took to go so bare before the camera.

Get it now!
The Soundtrack (by 9 Spanish composers)

Hall is stalwart in a contrasting style of beauty and sexuality making inevitable comparisons work perfectly in the context of the characterizations. Messina pulls off the almost jilted fiance with enough vitality and aplomb to give him high marks. Patricia Clarkson is solid as the girls' hostess who provides them a room in her mansion and who has her own issues pertaining to marital happiness.

True, Allen's recent product doesn't always pay off with quite so much colorful whimsy and incisive irony but, with this well-crafted piece of work it's clear he's on a role. Especially if you scratch "Scoop" and "Cassandra's Dream" from the record and consider just this and "Match Point." For me, his genius has returned with, among other gifts, scintillating character creation and understated situational hilarity. It also suggests that he has realized he can no longer cast himself as the romantic lead.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Rebecca Hall and Scarlet Johansson
Best friends on a holiday.
The "Barcelona" part is who they're ogling with such unabashed interest.

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