Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona is an unhopeful romantic comedy that brilliantly sums up relationship neuroses. It employs the ever-useful “triangle” that many of the best films in the romance genre rely upon. There’s nothing really new here, but the insight into these characters is maddening. It’s the reason to keep coming back to Allen’s films. It’s truly the gift that he is able to bring to nearly all of his work: comical, cognitive, self-psychosis.
Allen unfolds his movie as though we were reading it from a book. There are three characters:
- Christina, and
- Barcelona/Juan Antonio.
It’s immediately made apparent that Vicky and Christina are opposites romantically. They do have one thing in common: they love Barcelona (Juan Antonio, too). Vicky loves by using her head, primarily; Christina loves by using her heart. This becomes problematic when each woman eventually finds herself unhappy.
A woman who is more rigid, structured and thoughtful (Vicky), will begin turning to her heart and giving in to her emotions when she grows unhappy. She will wonder why she has spent all her life thinking everything through, choosing the safest bets and residing in the shadows of her other half, until finally she realizes that shutting off her emotions may be more practical, but less fulfilling.
A woman who is loose with her heart, follows her feelings as they occur and cares less about the practicality of it all (Christina), will begin turning to her conscience when she grows unhappy. She will wonder why she has spent all of her life following her heart, when her heart only lets her down. When quick, intense bursts of passion, love or feeling occur in her life, she’ll feel satisfied, but as it won’t be sustainable for her, she’ll soon turn to resigning herself to an emotionless existence.
To be able to find the delicate balance between both these women is virtually impossible I would imagine. Vicky and Christina are doppelgangers; they are both types of a woman, who if melded into one would maybe be truly happy in their life. Allen, smartly, deals with only the basest of human emotions in these characters; they’re pretty easy to read. Certainly no trouble for Juan Antonio.
Juan Antonio (played superbly by Javier Bardem) is a self-esteem-less artist who hides in Spain and uses its beauty and culture to attract Christina and Vicky, respectively. Christina likes his flamboyance, gall and all-around avant-garde-ness. Vicky succumbs to his sensitivity and ability to not be crushed by her, while still allowing her power over him.
The set up is simple: When Juan sees them both together, he wants them both. He is very forthcoming about this. We learn that he has a violently passionate past with another woman (and artist), María (played by Penélope Cruz). When she comes back into his life we discover just how crazy she is, and crazy about him. Juan starts up an affair with Christina who he devotes a substantial amount of time to, and eventually she moves in with him.
On Christina and Vicky’s first night with Juan Antonio, he tries to get them both to spend the night with him. Vicky is appalled and declines, protesting how she has a husband whom she loves dearly. Christina accepts the invitation. In a stroke of fate, however, she gets sick right as they kiss, an (in)convenient result of her ulcer. Is the carefree love life she leads stressing her out? At any rate, she’s laid up for the next couple of days, and this leaves Vicky to the devices of Juan Antonio. He takes her to meet his father; gets to know her personally; and, by the end of the night, despite her protests it’s evident where her heart lies.
Juan Antonio (rather manipulatively) assumes it’s a one night stand with Vicky, and instead becomes easily enamored by Christina. Soon Christina and Juan are living together, Vicky is married, and Juan Antonio moves María back in to his house after an ill-fated suicide attempt. María soon, depravedly, forces the love affair between Juan and Christina into a threesome and for a while its fun for Christina, but she quickly tires and moves on.
From here we see Vicky find her way back into Juan Antonio’s life (as she appears restless in her marriage) and so on and so forth. It’s a convoluted love story that when seen close up appears incredibly disturbed and immature, but if you take a step back, it actually all makes sense and will no doubt have you in heated debate with your loved one thereafter.