Allen’s latest film questions views of love

Luscious lips, free-flowing hair and endless glasses of wine characterize director Woody Allen’s vision of a sensuous trip abroad in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are best friends vacationing in Barcelona. We are supposed to believe that they are the “we’re best friends, but have nothing in common” cliché. An anonymous narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) introduces Vicky as “grounded and realistic,” engaged to her hardworking yet dull New Yorker boyfriend. Cristina, when asked about her occupation, says, “I’m currently at liberty.” While Vicky researches for her dissertation on Catalan identity, and Cristina tries her hand at Spanish romance, they both realize that they have more in common than they thought, especially when it comes to traditional understandings of love and freedom.

The two girls are talking about exactly those things over a candle-lit dinner when the suave Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) enters the picture. Cristina is smitten immediately, while Vicky is apprehensive about his casual invitation to take a weekend trip. Juan is openly flirtatious, despite a recent rocky divorce from wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz). He, as a painter, is a representation of the unconventional approach to relationships: he develops a physical connection with all of the women around him, creating one Vicky-Cristina-Maria-Elena-Barcelona mess. As Cristina becomes a better photographer, she, too, embraces love as an emotion that can’t be confined to one person. Her portrait of love evolves to include both Juan Antonio and Maria Elena.

Cruz delivers a noteworthy performance, illuminating the screen with a presence that endears the audience to her explosive character Maria Elena. Maria Elena’s paint-splattering approach to creating art is just as voracious as her approach to love. She is noticeably comfortable playing a character in her native Spain, similar to her performance in Volver. Without her, the chemistry between the other actors would have been as vaporous as the whiffs of Maria Elena’s cigarette smoke.

The character’s clothes, designed by Sonia Grande, fit perfectly into the film’s bohemian atmosphere. Although the women’s outfits are rarely more formal than a blouse and shorts, the simplicity of such combinations compliments their desires to live freely and comfortably. These outfits are in sharp contrast to the clean-cut attire worn by Vicky’s boyfriend and the rest of the New York City businessmen.

Although Vicky Cristina Barcelona is like a high-end chick flick, there’s potential for the film to hold the attention of a variety of viewers. The in-again, out-again voiceover of the narrator often interjects humorous commentary. Vicky may resonate with college students who are devoted to their studies and who seek a practical way of living. Cristina, on the other hand, may represent the bohemian student who dabbles in experimental relationships, not concerned with the so-called practicality of obtaining a Master’s degree, but rather with the fulfillment of love and happiness.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is currently playing at Images Cinema and will run through Thursday.