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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Truth at 24 frames per second

By Steve Sedlak

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the bewitching atmosphere of jam-packed movie theaters. Only one other state of theatrical exhibition compares to the electric tension of being part of that crowd: empty cineplex screening rooms. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. You loathe the moment that that one person walks into the boxy screening room-and depending on the cineplex, these rooms seem to have somehow retrogressed to take on the appearance of their nickelodeon ancestors-because now you can’t, in good confidence, put your feet up on the seat in front of yours.Someone burst into my private screening room experience of “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” this Sunday. It was halfway into the movie. I kept my feet up anyway, being a college student and a slob.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is one of Woody Allen’s latest creative endeavors. At the age of 72, Allen is still experimenting with filmic form (and opera; recently he directed a version of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” in Los Angeles). And “Vicky” doesn’t mind beating you over the head with its own form of romantic avant-gardeness. Of course it’s rather refreshing after Allen’s comparatively conservative “Scoop” (2006).

The redundant title of the film reveals its main characters. There’s Vicky (Rebecca Hall), there’s Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) and there’s that more obscure object of desire, Barcelona. Vicky and Cristina are friends spending a few months in Spain together. They meet a sexy Spanish guy named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) at a bar, and he invites the two of them to partake in a bohemian sex adventure in Oviedo. Love triangles begin, and eventually we meet María Elena (Penélope Cruz), Juan Antonio’s neurotic ex-wife.

The film begins with possibly the most obnoxious voice-of-god narrator ever to grace the Grandview’s audio system. Allen fully recognizes how irritatingly gratuitous this narrator is. The impression I got was that he employed the narrator to point out how strongly the images he composed on the screen speak for themselves without the need of dialogue or the commentary of an extra-diegetic narrator. I immediately understood that Vicky and Cristina were very different women without being told so, Woody: you split the frame to show both of them, even though they were sitting maybe two feet apart in a taxicab.

A particularly romantic moment between Vicky and Juan Antonio provides Allen with another opportunity to fool around with film form. In a passionate shot-reverse shot kiss sequence, Allen cuts by using dissolves. This endows the scene with a pulsating romantic atmosphere. Simply put, it’s a pretty effect. Strangely enough, this technique was used just a few months earlier in the latest “Hellboy” film, so is Allen re-codifying it, or just being trendy?

Of course I can’t forget to mention the ambiguous use of footage from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” in “Vicky.” Vicky goes on a movie date with a diplomat who’s stationed in Barcelona. The narrator informs the audience that “they went to the movie, and it was good,” while the scene from Hitchcock’s “Shadow” where the female protagonist almost gets pushed out of a moving train plays out on the screen. Take it as you will, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at its placement. I doubt that “Shadow” would have realistically been playing in Barcelona, which makes me want to say that its placement was more like a commentary on the story of the film than anything else.

Moving away from the more artistic qualities of “Vicky,” let’s take a final moment to focus on its story. “Vicky” isn’t a comedy. In fact, the only moments I laughed at were random acts of violence by Penelope Cruz’s character and Allen’s unwarranted use of the iris (think of the end of a “Looney Toons” episode). But in a way, it is the seemingly senseless acts of editing and the characters that foreground the film’s subject. At first, Vicky knows what’s best for her in the long run (to get married to a stable New York City yuppie), but then Barcelona changes the very meaning of “the long run.” She seems ready to dump her engagement with the New York City yuppie to live a romantic but decidedly unstable life with Juan Antonio. Love is madness, but it’s a beautiful insanity. To a point.

Like “Manhattan”, “Play It Again, Sam” and so many other Woody Allen films, the ending just happens. There is a crescendo, but this emotional peak is not built on a pile of tied-up plot lines. Instead, it’s a crescendo based on repetition. When Vicky and Cristina leave Barcelona, they are both back where they began: Vicky will marry the yuppie, and Cristina will live the bohemian life. In a way, it’s an ending a hundred times more realistic and easier to associate with real life than the average Hollywood flick.

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