"Vicky Christina Barcelona" comes at about the fifth anniversary of Woody Allen's leaving New York City as his filming base, which continues to remind me of the "Seinfeld" episode where George's parking problems irritated Allen enough to lead him to proclaim that his days of filming in NYC were over. As the years have passed, the opening of another Woody Allen film has resulted in less fanfare, but I have to wonder if Allen is satisfied working with less scrutiny than before.
"Vicky Christina" once again stars Allen's muse, Scarlett Johansson, as Christina, who visits Barcelona with her pal, Vicky (Rebecca Hall). They stay with relatives Judy and Mark (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn) and take in the local culture. Vicky's straightforward and safe, while Christina is a little more up for adventure. One night, they are approached at a local restaurant by infamous local artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who has just gone through a nasty divorce.
Juan makes them an offer of jetting off to another city to explore art and, well, each other. Vicky is more than a little ticked off by Juan's forward offer, but Christina's more than a little curious. Despite Vicky's warnings against the idea, soon after they're on a little plane heading out into a storm.
While Vicky is stand-offish at first once they arrive, she starts to become charmed by the Spanish painter, and - despite being engaged to a guy back in New York City - her defenses start to drop away. After the two get together, Vicky's view of what she wants is no longer quite as clear. Christina falls ill, but once she's back on her feet, she also finds the sparks flying between her and Juan, and the relationship between the two deepens. Still, neither woman likely predicted the return of Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz, Bardem's current significant other), the volatile ex of Juan Antonio.
While there are intense performances in the film (Cruz being the main example), the film has the relaxed air of Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty". The picture is an enjoyable romantic comedy with some elements of light drama, but when the plot starts to wander a little - and given the rather loose flow of the film, I did find my attention wandering on occasion - there's the aspect of the scenery, which is certainly presented in a postcard-perfect manner by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (2001's "The Others") to act as travel guide.
While the film's leisurely pace leads it to feel longer than its 97 minutes, this isn't due to the performances, nor Allen's well-written characters. There's a chemistry and soft sensuality to much of the film that's engaging and enjoyable - certainly a departure from what Allen has produced in the past. As lightweight as much of the flick is, Allen brings a touch of sorrow that helps to keep the film from being too flighty. The narration (by actor Christopher Evan Welch) is a mixed bag; while some of it works better than expected for a film that doesn't strongly need narration, it does eventually become a bit much.
The latest from Allen isn't a classic - nor does it compare to the director's best - but it is a fine return from the director, as "Vicky Christina Barcelona" is mostly warm, entertaining fare with gorgeous background scenery.
VIDEO: "Vicky Christina Barcelona" is presented by Genius Products/Weinstein Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film does have an intentionally warm, soft glow, but sharpness and detail still remain at least reasonably good throughout the show. While a few slight instances of edge enhancement appeared, the film otherwise looked smooth and clean, with no print flaws, pixelation or other concerns. Colors looked rich and well-saturated without looking oversaturated.
SOUND: The film is presented in stereo, but it really doesn't feel much different from the mono soundtracks that Allen's films in the recent past have offered. This is a very simple dialogue/score-driven soundtrack, but audio quality is quite good, with a full, crisp score and natural-sounding dialogue.
EXTRAS: Nothing, which is not unusual for Allen's films.
Final Thoughts: The latest from Allen isn't a classic - nor does it compare to the director's best - but it is a fine return from the director, as "Vicky Christina Barcelona" is mostly warm, entertaining fare with gorgeous background scenery. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality, along with no extras (although that's not unusual for Allen's films.)
The Film B-