Innocents Abroad

February 18, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

And speaking of stereotypes in movies, Penelope Cruz is nominated for an Oscar for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. She’s a wild artist – hot-tempered, passionate, impulsive, sexy, sensual, dangerous – oh those Spaniards, those Latin types.

The movie is based on the stereotypical contrast between Americans and Europeans, and when it comes to love, it’s like soccer – the Americans don’t really know what they are doing, while the Europeans are on very familiar turf.

Two American girls in Spain – Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is sensible and careful, engaged to a good prospect; Cristina (Scarlett Johanssen) is more daring. But neither seems capable of any depth in a relationship. Sex yes (at least for Cristina) but no passion. They don’t know what they want. They don’t even know what they can want.

The other Americans, the older couple the girls are staying with, have a marriage that is emotionally empty. The woman is disappointed, unfulfilled, stuck with a husband who seems to care only about business and golf. (It’s pretty clear that he represents what Vicky’s fiancĂ© will become.)

Then the girls meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), and they both eventually wind up sleeping with him – first Cristina, who moves in with him, then Vicky, who now understands genuine passionate involvement, even if it is fleeting.

Penelope Cruz is Juan Antonio’s ex-wife. She enters the picture about halfway through, and their tempestuous relationship becomes the center of the film. She’s crazy – she has tried to kill Juan Antonio and she has tried to kill herself – and Cruz’s performance is appropriately and hilariously over the top (do they give Oscars for this sort of thing?). But the point is that even though the Spaniards are crazy in their passions, they are still aware of their own feelings in a way that the Americans are not.

I said that the basis of the movie was the contrast between Americans and Europeans. The other basis for the movie is Truffaut, especially “Jules and Jim– friends who love the same person yet remain friends. The parallels to Truffaut are obvious if sometimes annoying – the extensive use of a narrator, the impulsive, dangerous woman who looks good in men’s hats, and probably others I missed.  (The bicycle rides on dirt roads are from an early Truffaut short, “Les Mistons.”)

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