Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: what’s that all about, eh? Part three*

So? So I’m thinking and writing about the film that was meant to be Woody Allen’s return to form, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’m thinking about it not so much in terms of what it appears to be but sits behind that appearance. I’ve been thinking, given the contusions** of its surface (and my dilletante-ish readings of Zizek) of it as a representation rather than a film. Or, in Freudian terms, as a symptom or presentation of underlying neurosis.

I decided there were two alternative thoughts/diagnoses.

One, it is a satire about the making a film like Vicky Cristina Barcelona. There are Gaudi bits of the city. There are rich expatriate Americans — Henry Jamesian without the quality tailoring. There is Penelope Cruz playing ‘crazy Spanish woman’. There is Javier Bardem playing ‘crazy Spanish artist’***. There is lunch. There is Spanish sex — with two young American girls. So not so much Spanish sex then as Woody Allen sex.

It is a view of Barcelona which gloriously reflects the maker’s own projections — because that is the stuff from which it is made. The city, the characters, their actions, these are all things which have no independent life outside Woody Allen’s head. They are thin, substance-less, one-dimensional — almost heroically so. The director’s singularity of vision peers inwards to what he already knows — or, rather, thinks he knows but actually doesn’t. That’s its deliciousness. Henry James again: it’s as if Daisy Miller had written Daisy Miller.

So, taken as a whole, all these elements of cliché, pastiche, reductionism and seemingly unfiltered symbolism combine to produce a film which is an accurate and enjoyable parody of an imaginary Woody Allen movie set in Barcelona. It’s the film that you or I would make if we wanted to make a comic reflection of the film we’d imagine that Woody Allen would make about Barcelona.

Read that way, it’s possible to pass a passable ninety minutes or so. And thank Woody Allen for giving us a late flowering of a new found capacity for self-reflection (as opposed to his earlier self-regard, self-fascination even).

So: Vicky Cristina Barcelona as a wry comedy of manners about a film-maker’s id-fuelled myopias and fabulously ignorant cultural prejudices. Attractive young girls! Spanish artists! Flouncing Spanish women! Gaudi bits and bobs! Barcelona, mi amigo! Las Ramblas! Tapas! Attractive young girls! Etc etc.

The second possibility? Wait till tomorrow.

* How many parts? Well, it’s currently looking like four, with a postscript (or two).

** Yes, I did mean contusions.

*** Who seems to have a private jet licence, too. Not to get too literal and picky about this, but I know a Barcelona-based artist, successful enough to have had a piece in MoMa. He runs bars to survive. He’s rich as rich by Barcelona artist standards.

Meanwhile . . . Tourists to London (and admirers of Tessa Jowell) might be interested in this.

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