Friday, October 31, 2008
Why three proper nouns does not a good movie make
There's not much good I can say about Vicky Christina Barcelona. No, that's not entirely true; it's a beautiful movie with beautiful people, and with the collective attractiveness of Scarlett Johanssen, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and even that random brunette chick, you could probably power a small town for at least a month. (If scientists ever manage to harness the power of white teeth, perfect skin, pouty lips and high cheekbones, that is). Other than that, though, it doesn't have much going for it: the narration is annoying, the climax disappointingly anti-climactic, and the ending suggests that the whole movie might as well never have happened. There was, however, one moment in particular that made me gnash my teeth in fury, and that was when the random brunette chick (who conveniently enough is also a member of the pouty lips/high cheekbone club) announces that she is writing her thesis on Catalan identity, and then several scenes later guilelessly admits that she doesn't speak Spanish. Oh! Well, it's ok, I'm sure all the really good source documents on Catalan identity are written in English, anyway. No problem! If only I had known, I would have done my Master's in French literature in English! Because, you know, what difference does it make? I mean, who needs to actually speak the language of the area one is studying in precise, tedious detail at a doctoral level? Pish! Oh Woody...it is painfully obvious that you never accomplished much in the way of higher education. And that's ok! Obviously you've done pretty well for yourself. But you must have at least known someone at some point in your life who has done some sort of graduate work in the humanities. A friend of a friend, maybe? Maybe you read a book once, about a graduate student? No? Well let me clue you in on how it works. Trust me when I say that if one was to write a thesis on the subject of Catalan identity (which, to me, already sounds made up, and were this a real thesis would read more like The role of the medieval church in the development of modern Catalan identity, or something as equally specific in a sort of who-gives-a-shit kind of way), not only would one be fluent or nearly so in Spanish, but one would also spend one's nights poring over Spanish-Catalan dictionaries and texts until one had succeeded in teaching oneself Catalan, too. But then again, perhaps what is nice about Woody Allen's films is that they portray a simpler world, in which one is free to pursue whatever esoteric topic in acaedemia one chooses, regardless of background or qualifications, and where teeth are naturally white and impervious to the ravages of coffee, red wine, and cigarettes, all of which are consumed in copious amounts. It is, indeed, a simpler world, in which the characters' likes and dislikes are easily definable and dictated by an annoyingly-voiced narrator, and identities are worn as awkwardly as costumes. You say that you're a bohemian? Well, you've joined a ménage-à-trois and you stay up nights sipping coffee and scribbling "poetry," so you must be! Pick up a film camera and start taking photos, and voilà! You're a "photographer!" It is a world in which the over privileged and perfectly-coiffed spend an hour and a half trying to convince you that you should care about their first-world problems, and then abruptly pull the plug, saying, "Problems? What problems? I'm going to forget that any of this ever happened, and so should you." And you will, because you will have no choice, because ultimately, it is just not that memorable a movie. Vicky? Christina? Who? The strangeness of the title is the first clue, and it should thus come as no surprise that a title with no verb means a movie where nothing ever happens.
I did take one thing from this movie, however. I have two weeks of vacation coming up in February, and now I know exactly where I'm going to go. And I may not attend gallery openings or be whisked away to romantic destinations on private jets by handsome strangers, but I will drink good wine and I will eat good food, and I sure as hell will remember it once it's over.