27/2/09, Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds. 1hr 30 mins.
The Hyde Park is the kind of old-fashioned little cinema you don't think can possibly survive: on a suburban corner in the student neighbourhood, a single auditorium, ticket office facing the street, sweet concession in the tiny foyer.
Cinemas like this deserve better films: a Woody Allen picture with Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz. A self-indulgent romp with some wit but few real jokes, relying far too heavily on a voice-over narrator and the undoubted physical charms of its stars and its settings (Barcelona and Oviedo).
A film that tries to have its pastel and eat it. It gently mocks the notion of the holiday romance. But it wallows in the gorgeous scenery, the tourist-board images of fountains and guitars and Spanish countryside and picturesque bars and villas inhabited by wealthy, yacht-owning expats.
Sensible Vicky (Rebecca Hall, pitch-perfect American accent), soon to be married to equally sensible (and boring... but affluent) Doug, comes with her dippy friend Cristina to Barcelona. Vicky is studying Catalan culture. Cristina is trying to find herself. They meet up with Bardem as a brooding but unfeasibly charming and sexy artist who, like the man in My Fair Lady, oils his way across the floor, oozing charm at every pore. He announces he'd like to make love to both of them and within an hour has whisked them off in the middle of the night in a light aircraft to Oviedo, despite sensible Vicky's thoroughly sensible misgivings.
This is performance as self-parody: fun but unconvincing. In due course Cristina and the artist become lovers (but not before Vicky has succumbed to all that oil), only for the idyll to be disrupted by the arrival of his ex-wife, a suicidal spitfire with a tempestuous temperament and Cruz's good looks: another exercise in self-parody. He can't live without her; together they tear each other to pieces.
The movie looks up whenever Cruz is around (which is presumably why they gave her the best supporting actress Oscar, though it isn't deserved). There's a wonderful moment towards the end when Vicky, newly-married, has succumbed to temptation and is allowing herself to be seduced by the artist when Cruz comes in brandishing, and indeed firing, a gun.
It might have been a far more interesting film without Vicky and Cristina in it at all. But then I suppose it wouldn't have been a Woody Allen picture. Though to be candid I'm not sure what that means these days, because I've seen only one since Annie Hall in 1977 (though I may have seen Manhattan a couple of years after that). His reputation and the critics put me off: I somehow think his films must be self-indulgent, feature insufficiently sympathetic people and be insufficiently funny.
That's a fair description of VCB, but not of the only other film I've seen, Sweet and Lowdown with Sean Penn and Samantha Morton, which I remember was sweet and touching and convincing in its picture of the world of itinerant jazz musicians in the 1950s (or maybe 1930s: it was a long time ago).