Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Then I first saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona in screen nine of the Odeon at Liverpool One on the 13th February 2009 at 3:10pm, sitting in Row C, Seat 10. That’s right. I still have the ticket. Or receipt as they have there. Or more precisely a scan of the receipt:

My attendance was in a rare professional capacity to produce this formidable review for Liverpool Confidential, formidable because it’s about as comprehensive a survey of a Woody Allen film I think I’ve produced:
”Barden and Johansson are eye-catching enough, but the emotional heart of the film is Hall, whose face ripples constantly with expression. Vicky is between temptation and outside expectations, the heart and the head at war. […] Hers is the character most of us identify with and by the time Vicky falls under Juan Antonio's spell, the film has us in its clutches too. We’re constantly aware that this is the hardly-feminist account of an artist wrapping the hearts of three women around his paint brush, but all the while we’re beguiled.”
The description of the kids walking out is true of course, and that was after they’d played with their mobile phones for a bit and chatted to each other. Sometimes I wish that when the BBFC awards certificates, it would take into account the audience a film is clearly aimed at as well as the literal content. Though quite how a film with these sex scenes attracted a 12A anyway I’m not too sure.

Now Since my Liverpool Confidential review is so wide-ranging even to the point of emphasising Rebecca Hall’s contribution to the film (which we'll talk some more about in the next paragraph), there doesn’t seem to be much point in restating any more of that text or repeating any of the poetry. If anything, I’m more impressed with the film, and watching it within context, it’s clearly his most confident piece since Melinda and Melinda in terms of editing and construction without any of the uneasiness that greeted his London films and with due respect the achievements of Melinda and Anything Else, clearly his best film in the noughties (a position that will no doubt keep changing).

The reason that Hall’s character stands out is because she visibly has the most screen time, which simply increases the disingenuous of the poster where he photo doesn't appear and she's relegated to a secondary layer in the billing. Though the story moves away for Scarlett’s dalliances with Penelope and Javier, it’s Rebecca who has the objective view of their three way relationship and her performance that guides our opinion of it. She’s also the character with the funniest lines; early on when Javier propositions the two girls, she seems to physically imitate Woody and that continues into the next scene where she’s shown cowering at the back of the plane. It’s extraordinary.

Given the lack of a release yet for Whatever Works in the UK (I'd like to see it first at the cinema), this is effectively the end of this odyssey for now, much to your relief I’m sure. But unlike the Hitchcock retrospective, I don’t want to attempt a proper summation because Woody’s career continues. I still stick by my theory that with Melinda and Melinda, the director, just as he did between Love & Death and Annie Hall, was completing one section of his career ready for another and even taking some elements of Scoop into account, each of the films which has followed could not necessarily described as Woody Allen films were it not for the credits and that seems to be a deliberate decision, commercially or no.

But unlike Hitchcock, Woody doesn’t seem to have in his head a concept of a “Woody Allen” film and that’s what he’s deliberately disregarding. Hitch often said that such and such a film, The Wrong Man, for example, wasn’t really a Hitchcock film. Woody clearly has an idea of how movies should be made and of his own limitations, but I don’t think he has the same idea others may have of what a “Woody Allen” film is like, something to work towards or disregard, he's not aware of his own auteur status. He simply feels like he’s gone as far as he can in one direction and is trying something new, his workload and continuing ability to be bankrolled and attract a good cast allowing him to experiment.

None of his previous ensemble appear in these later films. Most of his standard elements of style are absent. Sight unseen you might consider the possibility that Vicky Cristina Barcelona was directed by a much younger man or woman, or at the very least a European director. It certainly has more in common with the Bertolucci of Stealing Beauty and The Dreamers than the Woody Allen of Curse of the Jade Scorpion or even Hannah and Her Sisters. The dialogue is less mannered, there’s an easy poetry visually and linguistically and it’s the first of his films to feature scenes in a “foreign” language as the academy would have it, and I don’t mean the Queen’s English.

Of course, on viewing Whatever Works, which is his brief return to New York, I could be proved wrong. But this year’s fall release, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was filmed in London again (with the brilliant detail of Lucy Punch replacing Nicole Kidman in a prominent role). His 2011 project temptingly has Marion Cotillard playing a Muse according to the imdb. But none of them sees the return of anyone from the old ensemble and the signature jazz tracks which were recognisably his mainstay are gone – even in Whatever Works judging by the soundtrack album which is available on Spotify.

What I will say, is that watching all his films so far in such close proximity has only increased my admiration for his work and its consistency. Even his worst film, Hollywood Ending, has some excellent relationship scenes and at his best he’s clever, intelligent, romantic and charming and probably the Shakespeare of American filmmakers in terms of variety, poetry and thematic depth within certain specific limits. If my favourite films are still the earlier pictures from the late seventies and earlier eighties, because I grew up with them, my fondness for the later work, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Everyone Says I Love You, Deconstructing Harry and yes, Vicky Cristina Barcelona has increased. Now, what's next?

1 comment:

  1. This was a great series! What will you do next?