“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more.” Wise words, from dance one-hit-wonder Haddaway, no less. But maybe he was on to something. Woody Allen seems to think so, as in his recent arthouse flick no love story is without its fair share of pain and suffering.
The film opens innocently enough (despite the irritating shotgun narration), with two nubile young women, Vicky and Christina , deciding to spend the summer in the famed Spanish city. There they meet artist Juan Antonio [Javier Bardem] and each falls for him in her own uniquely tragic way, despite hearing of his recent tempestuous divorce from fellow painter Maria Elena [Penelope Cruz]. Allen explores the varied and transitional nature of love as his characters all seem destined to lose in the battle of heart over head. Vicky [Rebecca Hall] is quickly embroiled in an unhappy marriage and Christina [Scarlett Johansson] is forced to share Juan Antonio with his ex wife after Maria Elena attempts to commit suicide.
Christina finds herself becoming “the missing ingredient” in Maria Elena and Juan Antonio’s relationship, and whilst she wants to seem open minded, it’s not long before the arrangements fills her with doubts. Like most women, she doesn’t know what she wants; she only knows that it isn’t working and she has to get out. Does this mean we are all destined to remain unhappily monogamous or scared to embrace a complicated happiness? Not necessarily. Despite an underlying note of melancholy, the film has many beautiful, positive moments. It’s almost as though romance has a fragrance that permeates the screen and envelops the viewer; it’s impossible not to fall in love with this film, even if it’s only for a moment. The characters are gorgeous, the setting is picturesque and the plot hooks into you with its emotionally-charged turbulence.
When Juan Antonio takes Vicky to meet his father, the script is Allen at his best, “I affirm life despite everything” he says – and this seems to be a theme for the film. It makes you want to throw yourself into life with more fervour and elated abandonment, regardless of the consequences. Why should you see it? Well to quote Juan Antonio “Life is short, dull and full of pain; this is the chance for something special.”
By Sally McIlhone