From the desk of The Movie Snob
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (C+). Seems to me that Woody Allen has grappled with the same problem in several of his movies, including this one. The problem is, once you decide that there is no God and no afterlife, how do you find meaning in life? All of the characters in this movie who express a point of view share Allen’s atheistic materialism, and they seem to be at a loss as to how to answer this basic question. Vicky (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson, The Island) are young American women set loose in Barcelona for a summer, and both come under the spell of a charismatic Spanish artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men). Complicating matters are Vicky’s engagement to a bland but perfectly nice yuppie back home in the States and Juan Antonio’s continuing involvement with his crazy ex-wife Maria Elena (played, convincingly, by Penelope Cruz, Nine). The performances are good, but given the premises of atheistic materialism it is difficult to build any tension into the story. Cristina has fully abandoned bourgeois morality, so it is hard to care how her relationship with Juan Antonio (and Maria Elena) turns out. If the only rule is follow your heart, it’s rather hard to make wrong choices. In short, Cristina is a bore. Vicky, on the other hand, provides at least a little drama, since her getting involved with Juan Antonio would require transgressing the last bourgeois convention standing, that you really ought not cheat on your spouse or probably even your fiance. But if we are merely temporary collections of molecules bouncing around in the void, why should we abide by even this seemingly minimal constraint? In a way, this movie is a perfect counterpoint to Brideshead Revisited, which I reviewed yesterday. Brideshead asks what would happen if you really believed in God and Catholicism and tried to live your life accordingly. Vicky asks what would happen if you really didn’t believe in God at all and tried to live accordingly. It’s an interesting concept — but it makes Allen’s characters less interesting people.