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2008 Part One: In Which Three Girls Go To The Movies I went to see Vic~ Cristina Barcelona in .\ ugust to distract myself from my love life, dragging along my teenaged sister and cou sin for company. I don't find-nor does an yone else, I thin kthat Wood y Allen movies are generally good for distr action from the perils of roma nce. So, to be more honest, I was go ing for th e pain, accep ting it as a chance to wallow with onscreen comp any. But this time, ins tead of wallowing on the cold, hard streets of Manhattan with Allen him self or Annie H all and her layers of clothing an d idiosyncrasies, I was go ing on vacatio n- to Barcelona! With Javier Bardern and Penelop e Cruz no less, who are more than enough distraction for any heart. (Actually, their targetarea is generally somewhere a lot lower, anatomically speaking, but definitely welcome and equal op por tunity) As I drov e to the theatre I consider ed how my sister and cou sin would either be annoyed with me or love me in the future for taking th em to see this movie. You see, though we are fro m New Jersey, not far from Allen's 'hood and brand of neuro ses, senior members of my family have always sort of sco ffed at what they consider to be moody, ar ty intelligentsia on th e silver screen- they, like many people, go to the mo vies for escap e, no t to be talked at, preferring car crashes and hijinks to run ning mo nologu es. My mom rolled her eyes wh en I mention ed my plans, my sister shr ugged and said sure she'd go bec ause part of her thin ks I'm cool (poor girl), and my cou sin is so easygoing that she just came along for fun. They weren't bringing a lo t of baggage or expectations to the evening.

Yet still I wondered about how, in the futu re, the thr ee of us might carry the mem or y of having go ne to see this film tog eth er-why we saw it in the first place, wh at we thou gh t abo ut it afterward s, etc. N either of th em had seen a Woody Allen movie before . W hat should I tell them befo reh and? Wh at did I know? I was really wo rried th at the movie would be too bo ring or whiny. O r too sexy, and then we'd have to giggle anxiously the whole way through. In sho rt, I had morphed in to Woody Allen over the course o f our car ride: to tally bon kers and self-obsessed. I was taking the fun ou t of everything alread y with sheer mind power. Luckily, I kep t my mouth shut. We listened to th e radio. I'm surprised I did n't crash into a tree or start doing awkward vaudevillian stand-up to lighten the mood. Anyway, we charged forth -bought our tickets and our expe nsive snacks. We found our seats and, as the footlights dimmed and the ope ning credits rolled away, all my fears and preoccupa tion s were put to rest. Vic~J' D is/ina Barcelona was im mediately go lden and lovely. Funny and lighthearted, bur also anchored, self-assur ed. Ha rdly any of the distracting Woody tics that have becom e cliche with the waning of his career were pr esen t, or, if they were, you had to know where to look . So I sto pped worrying about the girls and started watchin g for myself. We'd all be fine. I cou ld feel it. A quick plo t synops is for tho se who could use it. Two American girls (the Vicky and Cristin a of the title, played by Rebecca H all and Scarlett Johans son , respectively) go to Barcelona for a summer to take in the sights and the culture. O ne late night, over glasses of wine and candlelight, they meet a dashi ng Spanish painter nam ed Juan Antoni o (Iavier Bardem), who invites th em on a weekend trip to a nearby town and offers to sleep with them bot h


because he finds them attrac tive and thinks it would be a " nice" exp erience. Cristina is the ro man tic-she falls for the plan and the man immediately with little or no care for the con sequenc es of such a choice. Sh e also thin ks it wou ld be " nice," and more . Vicky is the cynic, the p ragmatist-she's engaged to be married and offended by the brazenness of Ju an A ntonio's 'o ffer. D espit e th eir opposite reaction s, they end up go ing along, and, while both girls also end up in his arms (at different times), it is Cristina wh o becomes his live-in mistress for the duration o f th eir stay in the ciry. While practical Vicky reluct an tly marries her du ll finan cier fiance and continues sightseeing with half-hear ted en thusiasm and longing sighs fo r the passion o f h er recent past, Cristina is introdu ced to Jua n Antonio 's emotionally volatile ex-wife Maria Elena (penelope Cruz) who, after much skulking and suspicion and tirad es in her native tongue, decides Cristin a is the missing piece of the puzzle that was her and Juan Antonio's mar riage. What follows are breathtaking views of the city and brief glim pses into the worlds of mental instability, artis tic in spiration and expression, co-depend en cy, and affairs of the heart in general. And while all of the above is fascinating, wh at really keeps us in terested in these characters is their treatme nt of Woody's old soft spot, his Q uestion o f Questions: if love is so painful and imp ractical and fleeting, why do we all keep trying to fall into it? H e's no t the only writer or director, o f course, to ask this question , not by a long shot. I know thi s. And maybe it was timin g, or maybe it was the nac hos I ate in the theatre , but Vic~ Cristina Barcelona gave me the bes t answer to the Question o f Q uestions I've had in a long time. What's more, I had to wo rk a little to get it. T houg h I left the movie sated and happy, it wasn't until a day or so afterwa rds that I realized


==============~============== wha t he'd taught me . It took a while becaus e for the first time sinc e th e A nnieH allj}vJan!Jattan days- and this is ironic because VCB has a G odardesqu e omnisci ent narrator- I was not be aten over the head with his message. T he m ovie ends quietly, 'with th e narra tor telling us Vicky is retu rning to th e stable life she has always sought, while Cristina is go ing back to America still a searcher, "c ertain only o f what she didn't want. " Wit h that sim ple clo se, th e answer to that Q ues tion o f Questions was this: Where love is concerned, you'll always get wh at you are looking for. So you be tter figure ou t what that is and make your peace with it.

Part Two: In Which The Author Talks Too Much Without Making a Point and Hates Herself For It (Sorry) I wou ldn' t call myself a Wood y Allen fan . I haven't seen every m ovie in his insanely large catalog. I am a casual appreciator, if anything. I love his wor k ethic and his self-ind ulge nce. Despite the charac teristic neuroses and misery, he always seems to be entertaining hi mself. I love Annie Hall for the m ovie itself, b ut also for the fact th at I had a poster o f it in my dorm room at college . I wo uld look at th e black and whi te o f Alvy and Annie o n the pier and the tagline of "A N ervo us Romance" beneath th eir feet and feel at hom e. A t 18 I knew th at any romance heade d my way-be it a one-nigh t Bing or the m ost broken-i n of marriages-wou ld always be a nervo us one, becaus e, like Alvy and Annie and all of Allen's characters I am a person wh o spends a lo t of valu able (and hilario us!) time dwelling on the cause and effects of h er nervousness (see Part 1, Paragr aph 2 of this review) . A nd so I looked at those 'words and felt-many years after the Academy o f Mo tion Picture I'\r ts and Sciences and m ovie fan s everywher e also feltgrate ful that Mr. Allen had highlighted tha t no tion in the first place, opening flood ga tes of po ssibility for the scor es o f romantic dra medies that followed .

I love Manhattan and Interiors and H annah and H er Sisters and Sleeper. I am a goofball for those G ershwi n- scored d riv ing-au t-to -L o ng- l sIan d- fo r- the weekend mo nt ages. And Paul Simo n showing up and being sor t o f sleazy. And the lady leads o f his heyday are great- D iane Keaton, Carol K ane, Dianne Wie st, Mi a Farr ow-they fascin ate me. The unrealistic, bo ld things th ey say! The unique ways they dr ess and how they look bo th unkem pt and sexy at o nc e! T h ere aren't characters quite like the m elsewhere , in cinema or life, be fore or sinc e. I have no t seen SJJJeet and UJJJdouJt1, but am told I will love it. I liked E ieryone Sqys I L01Je 'lou (pretty campy really- m ostly I was sold o n it be cause I love musicals). I did no t love: ,11.elinda and },;Ielinda-at all. Maid: Point-not really. Scoop-ehh h . Cassandras D ream- gag. In ciden tally, neither did anyon e else (with the excep tion of M atc!J Point's legion of superfans). More im portantly, the se last film s are the four m ovies Allen made be for e V ic9 Cristina Barcelona. j\;Iefinda and Melinda was th e on e th at lowered the boom and sen t the director acros s the Atl anti c in search of fundi ng and a career defibrillator. After a few scratches in E ngland, Vic~y Cristina Barcelona was born, and Wood y was reb o rn . Hooray! And no w I've det ailed my Woody Allen expe rience to you. I' m so rry you had to deal with it. Just so you know, it was a relief to me to do it, and I thin k that's be cause I've always wanted to talk about Woody Allen but have been afraid to. Afrai d of askan ce looks and accusations of snobbery/ignorance. In real life, I don't know tha t I'd ever allow myself to, say, sit down at a bar and wax on about a Woo dy Allen movie with a friend or a stranger. T his impuls e is som ething Allen warn s you agains t himself, as he doe s it ironically and frequ ently on camera as regards his own idols-Bergm an and G odard, etc. P seudo -intellectu al bu llshit , he calls


it. So, in some respects, writing this review ma kes me feel weird and goo fy and o nce again a Wood y caricature. I worr y th at my vocabulary regis ter has gotten into noseb leed territo ry. \\'"hy is my opinion abo ut a great movie better than your opinion about the same great movie? Wh o cares? You liked it. I liked it. You didn't see it? \\ dl, go see Vic~ Cristina Barcelona. Or ~e dlix it wh en it's out on DVD. It 's so good :d smart. Also. D id I mention ' Pe nelope Cruz and Scarlett Johan make out in a darkroo m in this one? :"lo??? Well here's why- I ro tallv forgOt about it . Which isn't to say ilia i was..o路t h o t and memorable. I t wa: And it isn r to say it was gratuitous or cheap. It. was n t. Bu t forgetting that scene i testa nt to the larger emoti on al o f the movie. E xhibit A, in fact.


Part Three: In Which EvEi)1hing (ames Together, , Hope Innocence abroad has aksai bee n a very favorite subject o f mine. I rook a class in college called "Th Cosmopolitans" th at conc ern ed American writers in E urop e.So I read so me Heervj am es and E dith \x,'h ar to n th en and even now my favorite kind of writing is about naive peo ple wh o learn thing o n so me kin d jou rn ey. I never really expected tha t I'd be co . the tiber-N ew Yorker Allen wi th Henry James or with o ne of j am es's chara cters. But here I am doi ng it. \'\ Ood)- :\..IIen s like Daisy Miller-s-dead fro m box-office malaria with the terrible, terrible Cassandra's Dream. O r, \\Oody Allen like I sabel Ar cher- aft er making so me m ajor selfabsorbed misstep , it loo ks like he's de cided to dr o p hi creative crutches and become a braver v..-rirerl director. H e's said he left for E uro pe to be more like the gr eat E uro ean filmmake rs he 's admired all o f his life, to b e free of th e m ass-marker predilections of the Am erican movie industry and wo rk o n pro jects in own way witho u t budget or popularity co ncern s. H e's said he 's given up hope o f ever making

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a masterpiece and has settled on tr ying ro mak e his work be tter. This sort of cho ice is ins pira tional. A nd, after seeing T7ickv' Cristina Barcelona, I am really proud of Woo dy Allen. I mean, what does he care th at I' m proud ? I know. But I feel like if I've faced down my own ./\ll en-related worr ies, if I've take n the risk of jumping the hurdles of cliche to write a review about on e of his movies, then th at movie must be som ething really special and really different . V icAq Cristina Barcelona will not go down in histo ry as his best film . N o question ab out that. Bu t it may be the one that turns the tide. A nd if that t de turns him back home, who can predict wh at ma sterpiece might still be up his sleeve? ~"

DWELL ANNA LOWE Babe asleep in the crib, walnuts at delicate rest ato p her eyelids until sunrise. You carve our names in to the und erb elly of th e kitchen table and I watch from tangled sheets, bowl of overripe figs in my lap, tryin g to extract a bi t more nectar from that which so lon g ago grew black. In a house up the road, someone has my heart in a bedside jar. Root tuber hear t. It is star ting to sp rout. To cover itself with crisp yellow vine s and blind eyes and buds.


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Woody ocr