Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Caught Woody Allen's latest, "Vicky Christina Barcelona," last night as the fog threatened to roll in.  It's good, actually; not great, but good, charming, light, dark, thoughtful, whimsical, a little trifle on love and art and bourgeois sensibilities.

I didn't walk in expecting to be rocked, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much (the grace of no expectations, say the Buddhists!).  The whole thing is a lilting little love song to Barcelona, all Spanish guitar and lush flowers spilling off twinkly-lighted trellises and trickling waters and Mediterranean views and Gaudi architecture and abstract art.  All colored, of course, by the singular presence of one Javier Bardem.  Who has, most thankfully, lost that awful pageboy from "No Country For All Men."

Bardem is all passionate earthy artistic Don Juan painter Juan Antonio, he of the perpetual scruff and thick Barcelona accent.  He's only matched by Penelope Cruz's ripe turn as his brilliant but crazy genius ex-wife, Maria Elena.  The two of them make the film worth watching.  Truly.  And their push-pull dynamic, combined with Allen's astute perceptions on stability and love versus passion and conflict, will churn up any simple ideas you have about the nature of monogamy or long-term relationships.

Unfortunately, the movie also spends most of its time wrapped up in bathing Scarlett Johansson in golden hues.  Clearly Allen's latest muse is part of his inspiration, and sure, she's decent to look at, but god, she's annoying.  And such a bad actress.  So monotonic.  Still weirdly flapping her hands in approximation of feeling.  Thank god Bardem and Cruz are there to distract from her.  And Johansson's counterpart in the film, Rebecca Hall as Vicky to Johansson's Christina, is a surprisingly adept and nuanced actress in her role as the more predictable, but equally troubled, good girl.  

So if you can manage to transcend the ScarJo annoyance, catch a screening.  It's ostensibly a light film about romance and art and Barcelona, a serenade to a city and perhaps a way of life, but underneath its golden light you'll find fascinatingly melancholy ruminations on restlessness and love, (dis)satisfaction and connection, and bohemian allure versus the emotional and intellectual emptiness of "proper" bourgeois life.  

You've gotta respect Woody Allen's ability to sneak some cynical melancholy into everything he does.  Even when it looks like Penelope Cruz and murmurs like Javier Bardem.


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