Friday, April 27, 2012

TOP 10 SHOTS from "Vicky Christina Barcelona"

Welcome to "Top 10 Shots", our weekly spot to talk about some of the most beautiful, or else daring, shots of cinema present and past, and be alerted of SPOILERS. I wouldn't want to spoil the beauty of a film. We're back in place on Fridays, after a two week displacement due to "extraneous circumstances", but we're in full force now. There is nothing stopping us now, and this week is something of a departure from the norm, not least of which because this isn't the most attachable film to this week's release of "The Five-Week Engagement", a film which I quite honestly don't have as much enthusiasm for as I once did. I love Jason Segel, but this quite simply looks too attached to stereotypes than taking advantage of them. We all know Segel can do drama, but this just looks like no fun at all.

Transcending that, this week's film was originally going to be "The Muppets", but on further thought, not only is that film somewhat difficult to dissect, but it may even be better left for a different occasion. The film we have is connected loosely through the mutual cinematographer, Javier Aguirresarobe, whose work isn't exactly spectacular, but I felt this would at least be a fun excuse to get back to seeing "Vicky Christina Barcelona". It may have been hard for me to say if I liked "Midnight in Paris" better than this one a few months back, but on revisiting, Allen is in much greater form here, as well as less overtly inquisitive in his musings.

All that said, this week is still a step back, not in quality, but a time to just take a breather from all the serious work we see repeatedly over again. As rich as "Vicky Christina Barcelona" is in themes and questions, it is still a very spectatorial affair. The film is, after all, about the summer vacation of two best friends to Spain, specifically the city of Barcelona. Allen subtly has us drink in the scenery of the place, but it's much more of a general feeling about being there. It's sultry, airy, and you quite simply feel like you can just breath, which is a rare and exemplary feeling in cinema nowadays. The cinematography might not lash out at you to be appreciated, but it's nonetheless a sweet delicacy, and for the sake of that sweetness, no rankings this week. Let's just drink these in like a smooth wine, and take them as they come through the film.

Minds Divided

Woody Allen is a man of awkward flourishes, though not overly extravagant ones. You have to give the man credit to for not being obnoxious, or at least I feel he deserves that cinematically. His writing isn't always so introspective, but it is in "Vicky Christina Barcelona". This shot from very early on in the film shows instantly the dichotomy between Vicky and Christina. Vicky believes love is finding the right guy who is eligible. Christina is automatically opposed to anything too commonly sanctioned, and when she's accused of "chronic dissatisfaction", that is the truth. Their ideas of love are divergent, and this black line is a solid barrier between them.

Sparks Fly

There are so many shots in this list that don't beckon to be noticed, as said before, and that's a great deal of the beauty of this film. Spain isn't depicted as something desperately looking for attention, like Rome is honestly looking to shape like in "To Rome with Love". It's a simple beauty, but not without plenty of pleasant surprises to come. There's a great appreciation of art at the heart of the film, and art is meant to be most viscerally exciting. Indeed, this shot is just a passing shot of people celebrating, though it could be forgotten exactly what they are celebrating. Life? Love? Passion? It all comes out, with Vicky and Christina clearly excited by the slight adventures they take.

Merging Together

Juan Antonio is the magnetic sensual energy that binds the film together, and it's automatic to see how Christina takes such an immediate liking to him. Hell, we too take such a fantastic liking to the guy. You absolutely wish you had the bravery and suaveness to go up to two gorgeous young women and offer them a fantastic weekend away, plane flight included. Vicky isn't so enticed by him, at least until Christina makes the mistake of drinking too much and becoming overcome with stomach sickness. This opens an avenue for Juan Antonio and Vicky to spend time together, and they do so pleasantly, with wine, family, and music. After which, of course they make love. It's unexpected, but totally organic, and the fading between one another builds this sweet energy between each other. It's totally different from what he has with Christina, but no less special.

Hiding a Talent

Christina is shown entering the film in a state not exactly of confusion, but of desire for understanding. She takes up the trip to Barcelona on a fantastic whim, because you would totally do it if the opportunity opened up. But she is even in a position of professionally not knowing what talent she had. She'd made a 12 minute film, which she then subsequently hated. Isn't that just the way of it? But we see her repeatedly going about photography throughout the city, in this shot with her back to us, because she's not sure of anything. There's a self-criticism to her, that she simply doesn't want to be happy unless it's absolutely perfect. But it is a budding talent that grows as the film goes on.

Under Construction

And then we meet Doug, which seems to be the go-to name for a scuzzy guy who is nice, but you still just don't like him for some reason. I mean, he's just not interesting at all. At first all the indication we get of him is from these obviously staged shots of him back in the United States. It's all precious and glossy, and it's an area that we just don't want to head back to, just like Woody Allen doesn't. Anyway, in the background of this shot we see what looks like a boat under construction, and you could see that as Doug trying to find a way to be with his wife-to-be, it's more of her relationship with Doug. It's an idea in the works, and it's not really all that formed together. Kind of a pretentious fantasy.
Sensuous Experience

Christina and Juan Antonio are the source of much of the film's passion and love making, and who the hell doesn't want that? This film gets major points simply for having Scarlett Johansson in that role, because Scarlet is an absolutely gorgeous woman, almost impossibly so. And Javier Bardem isn't such an unattractive guy himself. The year after being so aggressively unappealing as Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men", I simply want to jump into bed with the guy for this. The two of them make love on many an occasion, but I chose this, because it meant so much to both of them, and you could tell that from the close and unbreaking nature of the shot.
I Want to Ride My Bicycle

You know something that this shot of the film finally made me realize? I absolutely bicycles in movies! Perhaps it's a fancy for Vittorio De Sica's classic "Bicycle Thieves", but bicycle is such a fantastic mode of transportation, especially when used in cinema. It's not the automatic feeling of cars, though they can give a certain rush that many car chase scenes will vouch for. But there's an extra effort that goes into pushing forward a bike, because it is physically demanding, but not overly so. It's an extension of the human experience. Which is all an over-articulation of the simple statement: I FUCKING LOVE BICYCLES!

Put on the Red Light

And anybody who hasn't seen "Vicky Christina Barcelona" will describe it to you as, "that film where Scarlet Johansson and Penelope Cruz play a bunch of lesbians". This scene seems to be placed in the film precisely to cause that kind of masculine gibberish, which is even reciprocated by Doug when he hears about it in the film. "So would you say then that you are bisexual?" Isn't that just an infuriating statement, and a leveling on in terms of such a sweet and romantic moment. It's no mistake that it's in a photography dark room. This act will be scrutinized by people from the outside, but it is nonetheless truly passionate.

In Oceanic Contemplation

But great things can never last, now can they? I think we knew that as sweet as all this may be, it wasn't going to last forever. They can't in real life, and they certainly can't in a Woody Allen film. The guy's a hopeless romantic, but he's always in a position of rejecting permanence of such. Passionate love does have its eventual consequences. This is a shot of Christina in contemplation, realizing that as much as she wishes this could be her niche in the world, it's just another thing she realizes isn't for her. She knows what she doesn't want, but she can only figure that out by herself, and it's not a happy process. It is the realization, and cooperation, with being alone.

Me, Myself, and... That Guy

The last shot of this list leaves on Vicky, who we would like to believe has found a niche of happiness that she can live with. The difference between her and Christina is that she isn't so in touch with her own feelings. She can deny them, and does in order to live realistically. She's not a free spirit, nor is she entirely happy. In this moment when she decides to Juan Antonio one last time, we see the distance she's created between herself and her husband. She is blocking him off, and left to ruminate merely on what she wants, and who she is, and it's not a position she likes to be in. Eventually the film brings her back to the place she was in, with Doug, and there's just no way of escaping herself, though she keeps trying.

So, what do you think of my picks, and what are yours? Comment below!


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