I've always been intellectually drawn to the "expat" life, but have only tasted bits and pieces over the years. A cigar in the back corner of the Bamboo Bar in Bangkok, a not-quite-24-hour jaunt to London for a brief meeting in the English countryside, and living vicariously through friends overseas via facebook status updates and photo tags, has kept me occupied enough to stay rooted in New York for the time being. However, I couldn't help but perk up as I watched Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) explore Barcelona, and long for my own summer spent in search of Gaudi, rioja, and self-awareness.
Christopher Evan Welch guided us along with his tongue-in-cheek commentary of their journey as it unfolded, providing necessary context and comfort. He followed us as we followed them: from Vicky's family's somewhat cliched life in Barcelona, to the girls meetup with suave Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and their resulting out of character behaviors in the town of Oviedo in Northern Spain, to the exotic arrangement that comes along with Juan Antonio, the mysteriously seductive painter and his erratic ex-espose Penelope Cruz.
Sometimes there can be comfort in the uncertainty of someone like Juan Carlos, something Vicky slowly opens herself to realizing. Also, sometimes it's hard to pretend you're okay with a truely avante garde lifestyle, as Christina finds once she gets there.
One of my favorite scenes was following the surprise return of Juan Antonio's ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). After another suicide attempt, she storms back into the home Cristina is feeling she's contributed to. A wonderful juxtaposition of conversation in English and Spanish ensues, highlighting one of the key themes of the film which I believe to be the psychological notion of triangularity in relationships. We're treated to an amusing combination of Chris Welch's droll narration, toxic but spectacular energy from Maria Elena expressed in bouts of un-intelligible Spanish to Juan Antonio, and the amusing attempts of Cristina to self-actualize in the midst of all of this.
A welcome departure from Woody Allen's somewhat disturbed perspective as of late, I would guess that this represents a significant realization for him as well.
The film touches on a variety of issues, you are sure to identify with at least one. It's fun, it's different, and it has some of the hottest sexual scenes I have seen on the big screen in years. If you're not turned on by Penelope Cruz in this movie, there is something wrong with you (men and women alike). Talk about walking away with some serious self awareness. RUFF!