Vicky Cristina Barcelona | 2008
Barcelona has been surprisingly under-used as a film location, but Woody Allen makes the most of its visual splendour after a trio of films set in London. There’s the merest glimpse of New York, as Vicky’s (Rebecca Hall) fiancé Doug phones her from the South Street Seaport, but the rest is all Spain.
The film has taken a bit of flak from some quarters for imposing a generalised ‘Spanishness’ on the fiercely Catalan city, but I defy you to watch it without wanting to hop on a plane and head to northern Spain.
Vicky – sensible and grounded – and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) – romantic and reckless – arrive for a summer break with friends in Barcelona, capital of the Catalonian region.
The city is bursting with art, as Vicky and Cristina discover as soon as they get off the plane – the façade of Terminal 2 at Barcelona–El Prat Airport boasts a dazzling ceramic mural, dating from 1970, by Surrealist Joan Miró.
Miró and architect Antoni Gaudí are probably the two most famous sons of Barcelona.
The helpful narration, “Vicky and Cristina drank in the artistic treasures of the city. They particularly enjoyed the works of Gaudí and Miró.”, provides the cue for a brief tour of the major landmarks.
The most recognisable of all must be the tapering spires of Gaudí’s Church of La Sagrada Familia, Carrer de Mallorca, 401, which seem to have grown up from the ground like coral. Under continuous construction since 1882, the church still remains unfinished.
Gaudí himself died in 1926, after being hit by a tram, and is buried in the church’s Carmen Chapel.
Another extraordinary Gaudí design is the rooftop, where Vicky and Cristina wander among the weirdly humanoid chimneys, which is that of Casa Milà, 92, Passeig de Gràcia, in the the Eixample district (Eixample is simply Catalan for ‘extension’). Also known as La Pedrera (‘The quarry’), the sinuously rippling apartment building, built between 1906 and 1912, is managed by the CatalunyaCaixa Foundation, enabling visits to see the interior – and roof too. Michelangelo Antonioni also featured the rooftop in his 1975 drama The Passenger, with Jack Nicholson.
And so on to Joan Miró, designer of the mural at the airport: it’s in the courtyard of the Fundació Joan Míro (The Míro Museum), dedicated to his quirkily childlike work, in the Parc de Montjuïc, that Vicky and Cristina admire the spiky ‘red legged’ sculpture.
Afterwards, it’s in Els Quatre Gats, Carrer Montsió 3, Juan Antonio is soon inviting both the friends away for a spur-of-the-moment weekend. The bar, where a 17-year-old Picasso held his first exhibition, originally opened in 1897 but lasted only a few years. It was successfully revived in the 1970s.
Cristina and – reluctantly – Vicky are soon accompanying Juan Antonio to Oviedo – “a very short flight”, as he says. Actually Oviedo, the capital city of Asturias, is about 430 miles west of Barcelona, towards Spain’s northern coast.
Oviedo doesn’t seem to have been a random choice for a location. The Príncipe de Asturias Prize for the Arts is presented annually in the city – an award that in 2002 was presented to Woody Allen.
In fact, one artwork that doesn’t feature in the film is a statue of the director himself, standing opposite San Francisco Park, and bearing his own description of the city: “Oviedo is a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, pleasant, tranquil and pedestrianised city. It is as if it did not belong to this world, as if it did not exist ... Oviedo is like a fairy-tale.”
"Pedestrianised”? – sheer poetry.
Their host takes Vicky and Cristina to visit the Church of San Julián de los Prados, Calle de Selgas 1, where he wants to show them “the sculpture that is so meaningful to him”, and where he tells of his stormy time with Maria Elena. Despite the fact that it seems to be in the middle of the countryside, the church is actually alongside a major highway northeast of the city.
In the heart of the old city centre, Juan Antonio takes them to the pale green, almost Moorish Mercado del Fontan, Plaza 19 de Octubre, just off the Ayuntamiento Plaza. Open Monday to Saturday, it’s the place to get fresh fruit and vegetables as well as fresh fish and seafood.
If you’ve more of a sweet tooth, a few blocks to the north you’ll find Confiteria Camilo de Blas, Calle Jovellanos, 7, which is the enticingly well-stocked and old-fashioned sweet shop from which they buy indulgent goodies.
When Cristina gets sick before she can willingly succumb to Juan Antonio’s advances, the aloof Vicky is left to be shown around the town, and Juan Antonio takes her to see the Church of Santa Maria del Naranco, Calle de Enrique de Osso, 47, just north of the city .
After lunch, they travel about 15 miles north to the coast, where he takes her to see Faro de Avilés, the old lighthouse at Avilés, near where Juan Antonio grew up.
In the evening, after they listen to guitar in Ferrera Park in the centre of Avilés, things go a little further than Vicky had planned.
When Vicky’s fiancé, Doug, makes the call from New York, suggesting he pop over so they can get married in Barcelona, Juan Antonio turns his attention to Cristina.
She’s taking up photography and he guides her to the red light district, where she snaps the happily obliging prostitutes. They end up in a suitably artsy bar, full of poets, artists and musicians. It’s La Marsella, Carrer Sant Pau 65, and if you’ve always fancied sampling absinthe, the legendary ‘green fairy’ spirit, this is the place for you.
Vicky bumps into Juan Antonio in Parc Güell, right in front of Gaudi´s famous salamander fountain, where he explains why he didn’t call her after the night in Avilés. The practicalities of location filming required the fountain’s flow to be temporarily reduced so as not to drown out the dialogue.
As Cristina moves in with Juan Antonio, it’s Vicky’s turn to be guide as she takes Doug to see the sensually undulating facade of La Pedrera (the building with the fantastic chimneys).
The two couples meet for lunch at the beautiful Plaza de Sant Felip Neri, which is where Juan Antonio sends out all the wrong signals when he accidentally brushes against Vicky’s foot.
After lunch, Juan Antonio takes them to see the charming antique amusement park at Tibidabo, which provides those breath-taking views over the city.
After marrying Doug, Vicky begins to have nagging doubts, highlighted when she’s approached by American student Ben at her language class in the Hospital de Sant Pau, Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 167. It’s in front of the grand arched entrance he invites her to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt. The former hospital is being redeveloped as a museum and cultural centre.
Cristina’s life is getting equally complicated, as Maria Elena turns up and moves in to complete a heady menage a trois.
Maria Elena enthusiastically teaches Cristina about the aesthetics and subtleties of picture taking in the Parc de la Ciutadella, near another (and more spectacular) Gaudí fountain – this one inspired by Rome’s Trevi Fountain.
Vicky’s confusion is only increased when Judy (Patricia Clarkson) opens up about the disappointments and compromises of her own marriage to Mark (Kevin Dunn), over coffee in the Café Vienés of the 5-star Hotel Casa Fuster, Paseo de Gracia 132.
Cristina, meanwhile, is becoming more adventurous. In the square outside the Pakistani restaurant, Fragile, in Carrer de Ferlandina, alongside the famous Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) she tells Vicky and Doug about her intimate experiences with Maria Elena.
Photography takes Cristina to the flower stalls on Las Ramblas, the bustling, tree-lined shopping street running from Plaça Catalunya down to Port Vell, near the cruise port terminal. Like busy tourist areas in most cities, Las Ramblas is home to the twin perils of living statues and pickpockets.
But she too is beginning to have feelings of dissatisfaction, sitting alone overlooking the concrete breakwater cubes of Port Olímpic.
Frustrated with her own lot, Judy recklessly encourages Vicky to pursue Juan Antonio as they walk down the steps of the National Art Museum of Catalonia, Palau Nacional, in the Parc de Montjuïc, and it’s back to Las Ramblas, as Vicky furtively takes a call from Juan Antonio while Doug considers the prospect of buying a caged bird.
Vicky agrees to meet Juan Antonio on Avinguda Pedralbes, in front of Gaudí’s dragon gate of the private Guell Estate. Their assignation is disturbed by a gun-wielding Maria Elena, and Vicky returns to the safety of married life.
Disconcerted by the events of the holiday, Vicky and Cristina discuss their experiences at Taller de Tapas, Rambla Catalunya 49-51, in L'Eixample, before returning to the airport – and to their uncertain futures in the US.