Barcelona tourism enjoyed a huge new wave of interest because of the Woody Allen film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Certainly the superb videography of the city and region whets one’s appetite to visit and/or returm.
The story is Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlet Johansson) visit Barcelona for their summer, staying with Vicky’s distant relative Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband, Mark Nash (Kevin Dunn). A Narrator (voice of Christopher Evan Welch), present throughout the film, describes the two friends: Vicky is practical and traditional in her approach to love and commitment, and is engaged to the reliable but unromantic Doug (Chris Messina). She is in Barcelona getting her masters in Catalan Identity, a project spawned by her love of the works of Gaudí, and is emotionally moved by Spanish guitar. Cristina, on the other hand, is spontaneous and unsure of what she wants in life. She is just out of a relationship and wants to get over the bad time she had making a 12-minute film about Love.
At an art exhibition, they notice the artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Cristina is impressed with him at first sight, and grows intrigued when Judy and Mark tell the girls that the artist has suffered a violent relationship with his ex-wife, María Elena (Penélope Cruz). Later that night, the pair notice him across the room in a resturant. He and Christina exchange glances, and he approaches their table, asks Christina’s eye color, and abruptly invites them to accompany him to the town of Oviedo, where they will sight-see, drink wine and, hopefully, make love. Christina accepts at once, but Vicky is skeptical and refuses. She is eventually convinced, and the pair accompany Juan Antonio to Oviedo on a small private plane during a storm.
At the end of the day, after some sight-seeing and a good deal of wine, Juan Antonio asks both women to come to his room. While Vicky refuses to sleep with him, Cristina agrees, but suddenly falls ill with an ulcer and food poisoning. For the remainder of the weekend, Vicky and Juan Antonio are forced to sight-see alone. During their trip, he tells her about his ex-wife and his loving but violent relationship with her. After more wine over dinner and a guitar concert in a park, Vicky succumbs to his charms and the two make love.
The next day, Juan takes them back to Barcelona. Vicky, feeling guilty, does not confess the incident to Cristina, and the two begin to grow apart, Vicky throwing herself into work and Cristina experimenting with photography and poetry. Juan Antonio calls Cristina back, and they begin to date. Doug suddenly suggests to Vicky that they get married in Spain in a civil ceremony, assuring her that their high society wedding will take place later in the States. She agrees, with some misgivings, and he flies to Barcelona from New York.
Cristina and Juan Antonio grow closer and they move in together. Suddenly one night, Juan Antonio receives a call that María Elena has attempted to kill herself. Since she has nowhere else to go, he brings her home, and she moves into the guest room. Though initially María Elena distrusts Cristina, she soon develops a liking for her and encourages her photography, which becomes better as a result.
Cristina soon realizes that the ex-spouses are still in love, and María Elena confides that their relationship was always loving but unstable because they were missing something, a mystery element neither of them figured out. María Elena now suggests that the missing link is in fact, Cristina, and the three indulge in extremely cooperative sexual relationships, as Cristina begins making love to María Elena as well. Cristina discloses the events of her life to Vicky, who appears secretly jealous of her friend’s freedom, and to Doug, who disapproves.
As the summer winds to a close, Vicky has realized that she is unsatisfied in her married life, and is still attracted to Juan Antonio. She sees Judy cheating on her husband but understands why Judy can’t leave her husband, and confides in the older woman. Judy, who sees Vicky as a younger version of herself,takes it upon herself to bring the two together. Meanwhile, Cristina realizes that she can’t live in a threesome for the rest of her life and decides to leave Juan Antonio and María Elena. Maria does not take the news well and breaks down. Cristina goes to France to spend the last week of her summer. With their “missing link” gone, Juan Antonio and María Elena break up again.
As a final attempt to pair up Juan Antonio and Vicky, Judy arranges for their meeting at a party. He begs her to to meet him the next day. After lying to Doug, Vicky, against her better judgment, goes to Juan’s home for lunch, after which Juan tries to seduce her again. She is about to allow herself to be seduced when María Elena enters the scene with a gun and begins firing wildly. As Juan Antonio takes the gun away from his sobbing wife, the gun goes off and Vicky is accidentally shot in the hand, wounding her slightly. Vicky shouts at both of them, calling them insane, and that she could never live like this, and leaves.
When Cristina returns from France, Vicky confesses the entire story to her. Doug is never told the true version of events. As the three Americans return to the USA, Vicky goes back to her married life and Cristina remains where she started, not knowing what she wants, but knowing what she doesn’t. As Vicky chooses to live her planned, perceived ideal life and Christina chooses to live with no plans for life, they end where they begin.
Synopsis courtesy of IMDb
The Guardian’s Review was
Barcelona loves Woody Allen but groaned through the showing I attended of VCB, a film most memorable for what Barcelona is not. Large and sumptuous homes with spacious gardens such as that of the artist Juan Antonio (Bardem) are unfamiliar to most Barcelonans. Nor do most artists drive vintage Alpha Romeos and have an airplane at their disposal. Nor is Juan’s lusty, seductive character typical of a Catalan. But we can allow some poetic license because what the film gets right: fabulous shots of the city as we know it, covering the picturesque landmarks. And: the fact that many a Vicky has been “turned” by Barcelona. Woody captures the magic, but it’s the city that does the seducing.
Filmed at: La Sagrada Família; Parc Güell; Casa Milà (La Pedrera); Tibadabo; Miro Museum; the Ramblas; the Barri Gòtic; Els 4 Gats (The 4 Cats); Santa María del Mar; the Mediterranean near the Olympic Port