Cannes: Woody Allen's 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'.

As much a part of Woody Allen's mystique goes to his dedicated audience's experiences with his films as it does his knack for being an auteur. The stories behind the films, about how his fans have reacted to each or all, are certainly an important element when considering his influence. Even when he makes a film that stagnates or a film that hardly makes any strides creatively, his films are a bridge into his mind, and it's always a compelling experience to go there. His latest film, 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', which debuted at Cannes this year, may have received some pretty mixed reviews thus far (many coming from confusion over whether or not he's parodying himself - he may very well be), but I think he's still more fascinating at his worst than quite a few directors are when they're "on the money".

When I first saw that the film was going to play at Cannes, I was interested, but not entirely excited. 'Scoop' looked like it had his idiosyncrasies, but not much intrigue. 'Cassandra's Dream' looks like the opposite. The early reviews affirmed me, many were put off by its pacing, its melodrama, and its odd sexual tension (without actual sex). I was disappointed that a film with such a wonderful cast as this (Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall - who played Christian Bale's wife magnificently in 'The Prestige' but has yet to surface to noted acclaim) could be sloughed off as having unfocused tension and chemistry issues. 'Match Point' was such a wonder, an unadulterated joy to behold, that I've almost been holding my breath to see how Allen might evolve next (I thought the new location in Barcelona could do it). Lucky for me, the good stuff is starting to pour in...

Kim Voynar of Cinematical gets the idea with Woody Allen, and relates the experience of watching a film of his to opening a Christmas gift from your eccentric aunt, his latest being of the good bunch:
"I've said before that a new film from Woody Allen is something like getting a Christmas gift from your eccentric aunt; you never know if you'll get a crocheted toilet paper cozy, or a piece of priceless heirloom jewelry. Fortunately, Allen's newest film, 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', turns out to be more like the latter.

....Allen has succeeded in making an excellent film; Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a lovely gift from a filmmaker who, when he's on his game, truly hits the mark.
Yet if Woody Allen is proficient in anything and quite consistently, it's extracting captivating performances from his actresses (his muse now being Scarlett Johansson, as overexposed as she is), this time from Penelope Cruz, who's still hot (and bothered?) off of 'Volver' and receiving the most glowing responses of any element of the film. It's because of her powerhouse performance in this that's returned my hopes to their high place for this film. Todd McCarthy of Variety:
"Cruz, who officially graduated from sex kitten to powerhouse melodramatic actress in “Volver,” is in full Anna Magnani mode here, storming up and down mountain peaks of emotion and captivating everyone in the process. Allen even generates affectionate comic mileage from the common rap on Cruz’s acting–that she’s great in Spanish but blah in English–by having her deliver Maria Elena’s colorful tirades in her native language, only to be told again and again by Juan Antonio to speak English so Cristina can understand her. She’s dynamite here in either language."
Professional critics may be losing their jobs and criticism as a whole may be on the decline, but doesn't that just get your blood roiling with anticipatory glee?

IMAGE from: FishbowlNY
IMAGE from: First Showing

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