Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a 2008 film written and directed by Woody Allen. The film stars Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall.
The film was shot in Avilés, Barcelona, and Oviedo, and was Allen’s fourth consecutive film shot outside of the United States.
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) visit Barcelona for the summer, staying with Vicky’s distant relative Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband, Mark Nash (Kevin Dunn). A narrator (voice of Christopher Evan Welch), present throughout the film, describes the two friends: Vicky is practical and traditional in her approach to love and commitment, and is engaged to the reliable but unromantic Doug (Chris Messina). She is in Barcelona getting her masters in “Catalan identity”. Cristina, on the other hand, is a nonconformist, spontaneous but unsure of what she wants from life or love.
At an art exhibition, they notice the artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Cristina is impressed with him at first sight, and grows intrigued when Judy and Mark tell the girls that the artist has suffered a publicly violent relationship with his ex-wife. Later that night, the girls notice him across the room in a restaurant. He approaches their table and quickly invites them to join him for the weekend in the city of Oviedo, in the small plane he flies himself, for sight-seeing, drinking wine, and (Juan Antonio hopes) sex. Cristina accepts the brazen offer almost at once, but Vicky refuses, strongly resenting his assumption that the two of them would agree to go to bed with him after less than five minutes’ acquaintance. She eventually decides to accompany her friend anyway, mainly as she says “to protect Cristina from making a big mistake”.
At the end of their first day, Juan Antonio asks both women to come to his room. Vicky refuses, but Cristina agrees, though she falls ill before any love making happens. For the remainder of the weekend, Vicky and Juan Antonio are forced together while Cristina recuperates. During their trip, he tells her about his ex-wife and his tumultuous relationship with her and takes her to visit his father, an old poet, making Vicky change her negative first impression of him. After more wine over dinner and an intimate guitar concert, Vicky succumbs to his charms and sleeps with him.
The next day, Juan takes them back to Barcelona. Vicky, feeling guilty, does not mention the incident to Cristina, and the two begin to grow apart, Vicky throwing herself into her Catalan culture studies and Cristina taking up photography. Soon Juan Antonio is dating Cristina. Meanwhile, Doug unexpectedly telephones Vicky, suggesting that they get married in Spain. She agrees, with unspoken misgivings, and he flies to meet her. Cristina and Juan Antonio grow closer and move in together.
One night, Cristina and Juan Antonio are woken up by a call, learning that Juan’s ex-wife María Elena (Penélope Cruz) has attempted to kill herself. Since she has nowhere else to go, Juan Antonio brings her home, and she moves into the guest room. Though initially María Elena distrusts Cristina, she soon grows fond of her and her photography.
Cristina soon realizes that the ex-spouses are still in love, and María Elena confides that their relationship was always loving but unstable because they were missing something, a mystery element neither of them figured out. María Elena now suggests that the missing link is in fact, Cristina, and the three become polyamorous. Cristina discloses the events of her life to Vicky, who appears secretly jealous of her friend’s relationship with Juan Antonio, and to Doug, who disapproves.
As the summer winds to a close, Vicky realizes that she is unsatisfied in her married life, and is still attracted to Juan Antonio. She learns that Judy is also unhappy in her marriage, and confides in the older woman. Judy, who sees Vicky as a younger version of herself, decides to bring Juan Antonio and Vicky together. Meanwhile, Cristina becomes restless and announces she is leaving Juan Antonio and María Elena. Maria does not take the news well and breaks down. Cristina spends the last weeks of the summer in France. With their “missing link” gone, Juan Antonio and María Elena break up again.
Attempting to pair up Juan Antonio and Vicky, Judy arranges for them both to be at a party. Juan Antonio begs Vicky to meet him the next day. After lying to Doug, Vicky, against her better judgment, goes to Juan’s home for lunch, after which Juan tries to seduce her again. She is on the point of consenting when María Elena bursts in with a gun and begins firing wildly. As Juan Antonio tries to take the gun from his sobbing wife, Maria Elena accidentally shoots Vicky in the hand, wounding her slightly. Vicky shouts at both of them, saying they are insane and she could never live like this, and leaves.
When Cristina returns from France, Vicky confesses the entire story to her. Cristina says she never knew that Vicky felt that way about Juan Antonio, and she (Cristina) wishes she could have helped her. Doug never learns what truly happened. As the three Americans return home, Vicky goes back to her married life and Cristina remains where she started, knowing only what she doesn’t want. Since Vicky chooses to live her rigidly planned (a “perfect”) life, and Cristina chooses to live without making predetermined plans, they end where they began.
Woody Allen goes latin (you heard me), and the romantic, richly comic result — powered by a dream cast — is his sexiest movie ever. Shooting in Spain has loosened up the Woodman. What sparks the movie is Penélope Cruz as Maria Elena, the painter’s ex-wife, a fireball given to strong emotions — hell, she once stabbed Juan Antonio during an argument. You haven’t lived till you’ve heard Cruz and Bardem trading Woody Allen one-liners in Spanish. They’re so ferociously funny you won’t even need the subtitles. Bardem, spinning 180 degrees from his bad-haircut villain in No Country for Old Men, is charm personified. And watching him switch tactics to tempt the luscious, pliable Johansson and the resistant, engaged Hall is a lesson in the art of seduction. But watching Cruz, switching between Spanish and English, untamed passion and chilly despair, is a lesson in the art of acting. Oscar-nominated for Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver, Cruz should have the golden boy at her feet this time. Whether she’s (whoa!) planting hot kisses on Johansson in a darkroom or shedding light on her own secret pain, Cruz is a stunner in every sense of the word — wild, erotic, quick-witted, touching and possessed of a beauty that can sneak up and break your heart. In this light-comic breeze of a movie, Cruz is a gathering storm.
Written by Luca Aquilanti