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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

The Weinstein Company // PG-13 // January 27, 2009
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 6, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The first
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of Woody Allen's films to bow on Blu-ray on these shores, Vicky Cristina Barcelona opens as two best friends settle into Spain for the summer. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are celebrating their arrival with sips of red wine when Juan Antonio -- a charming and devastatingly handsome Spaniard -- strolls over and introduces himself. The painter is barely a few words in before offering to fly both women to Oviedo for a weekend of sightseeing, fine wine, wonderful food, and...well, love making. Cristina, an impulsive romantic, is immediately intrigued. The more analytical Vicky, who's engaged to a successful but kind of interchangeable wheeler-and-dealer back in New York, is repulsed.

Of course, there wouldn't be much of a movie if Vicky won this argument, and they're both swiftly seduced by Juan Antonio. What fascinates Vicky about this charismatic painter is his preference for passion over the structure and stability she traditionally seeks out, but at least at first, she brushes off the encounter and moves on with wedding plans. Cristina is hopelessly smitten, though, seeing Juan Antonio's unpredictability and freewheeling artistic nature as everything her life is lacking stateside. The two quickly move in together, but their fiery fling is interrupted when Juan Antonio's ex-wife (Penelope Cruz) tries to kill herself. Maria Elena has no one else to turn to and no place else to go, and she grudgingly moves in as well, with all three of them eventually becoming lovers. As Vicky tries to sort out her own feelings about Juan Antonio, her fiancé (Chris Messina) further complicates things by shuttling himself off to Barcelona as well.

Too many movies lean on love as some kind of band-aid: that final piece in making some sadsack whole again or to reignite that spark in someone listlessly shuffling through life. Vicky Cristina Barcelona approaches it from an entirely different perspective. Love isn't a destination -- it's a journey -- and it represents fundamentally different things to different people. One of the facets Woody Allen explores here is
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passion versus predictability. Maria Elena has a combustible personality, and it's that fire that enthralls Juan Antonio...the reason he'll never be able to tear himself apart from her. Still, that same volatility, left unchecked, makes it impossible for them to be together. Vicky prefers to encase herself in some sort of structure and routine. It's stifling but familiar, and Vicky struggles to choose between counting on merely being content for the rest of her life or taking a risk on something more passionate but potentially fleeting. Meanwhile, Cristina doesn't have the slightest idea what she wants. She knows what she doesn't want, and as she repeatedly flits out of one relationship and breezes directly into another, Cristina may not ever be able to stumble upon that indefinable something.

Each of the film's characters has some element about them that's instantly engaging, and much the same as anyone else, they're flawed at the same time. Like true best friends, Vicky and Cristina can be deeply critical of one another, even if those feelings only spill out in confidence. The four of them come across as people rather than meticulously scripted cariactures, and it certainly helps that Allen has assembled such a wonderful cast to bring them to life. There's a convincing spark of chemistry between all of them, and Javier Bardem in particular is astonishingly charming. Not all that many men could proposition two women within a couple of minutes of meeting them and convince them to spend a romantic weekend with him in an unfamiliar city, but Bardem makes it entirely believable rather than just another male fantasy. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is sultry without ever feeling exploitative, and that intensity is only heightened by the sparkling wit of Allen's dialogue.

I respect the fact that Vicky Cristina Barcelona doesn't have a villain. There isn't some external conflict...some barrier bubbling up in the second act that's the final hurdle standing between any of its characters and true happiness. It doesn't pretend that there are any easy answers or that there are even any answers to find at all. Woody Allen's most enduring films have been smart, funny, romantic, and kind of sad at the same time, and that's certainly the case here. Even though Vicky Cristina Barcelona doesn't approach the same dizzying heights as, say, Annie Hall or Manhattan, this feels like a true return to form and is easily his best work in years. Highly Recommended.

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona looks lovely on Blu-ray. Director of photography Javier Aguirresarobe casts the film in a warm, golden glow that wonderfully complements both its romantic spirit and the entrancing beauty of Spain. It's an approach that leaves the movie looking a touch softer than usual, but the fine textures and rich clarity make it clear with even a passing glance that this is a proper high definition release.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is lightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the video on this single layer Blu-ray disc has been encoded with Microsoft's VC-1 codec.

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Woody Allen traditionally favors monaural audio, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that Vicky Cristina Barcelona features a PCM 3.0 soundtrack. The film's dialogue remains rooted in the center channel while the front mains flesh out a sense of ambiance and belt out the Spanish-flavored songs. The musical selections are rich and full-bodied, and a crack of thunder early on packs a wallop even without a discrete LFE channel to lean on. As expected for a film so intensely driven by its dialogue, the performances in Vicky Cristina Barcelona are rendered cleanly and clearly without ever being overwhelmed in the mix. It's nothing aggressive or particularly dynamic, no, but this uncompressed soundtrack accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do.

There aren't any dubs or alternate soundtracks on this Blu-ray disc. There are two subtitle streams, though: one in English (SDH) and another, appropriately enough, in Spanish.

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As always, Woody Allen prefers to let his films speak for themselves, so there are no extras at all on this disc.

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The Final Word
Vicky Cristina Barcelona doesn't shrug love off as just another plot an abstract destination for a couple of stock characters to chase for an hour and a half. No, Woody Allen is more fascinated by the pursuit: how it transforms and tortures, what it is that people crave, what about it they need, and how love isn't an interchangeable, clearly defined concept but a connection that can mean profoundly different things to different people. Allen strikes a terrific balance between breezy romance and an intelligent exploration of the pursuit of love, and he does it with a set of well-realized, three-dimensional, and believably flawed characters brought to life by a wonderful cast. While the lack of extras and solid but ordinary presentation may leave some waiting for a price drop down the road, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Woody Allen's best film in years and is well worth discovering on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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