In "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", Woody Allen explores yet another variation on his central theme of complex sexual relationships, but this time through the lens of the tourist's camera. The tourist is Scarlett Johansson in her role as the restless Cristina, who has no idea what, exactly, she is compulsively seeking through the lens of her digital camera (Metaphorically, she begins to catch a glimpse only after she exchanges digital for film.). Both Cristina and her intellectual best friend, Vicky (Rebecca Hall), arrive in Barcelona, where they are quickly captivated by the attentions of an aspiring artist (Javier Bardem), who is encumbered by baggage--the baggage in question being his suicidal/homicidal wife, Maria Elena (played to the hilt by Penelope Cruz).
Through the splendid cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe, Allen makes it evident that the two friends are seduced as much by the spell of Spain in general--with its "gently weeping" guitars, midnight tapas and golden wines--and Barcelona in particular--with its magnificent art and architecture, ingredients that render a scenario, which in a more mundane setting would be improbable, plausible. In other words, the city--the third ingredient of the title--works its magic both on characters and viewers, who are able to suspend their disbelief as one tends to do when traveling to the enchanting cities of southern Europe. Allen demonstrates this proposition with Vicky's husband and his friends who discuss nothing but computers and business affairs while her thoughts drift away with the haunting notes of a classical Spanish guitar.
Some reviewers have criticized the voice-over, but as far as I'm concerned, this straightforward device lent the film an old-fashioned charm. Others have criticized the intrusion of Woody Allen's narrative voice into the dialogue. And yes, there certainly are lines that one can "hear" Woody Allen reciting, but such intrusions made the film all the more enjoyable for me (in a nudge nudge wink wink manner); and I suppose that the enjoyment of this film will depend on whether one likes Woody Allen's humor, or not. To some it may seem like the same old schtick; to others, as in the case of the eponymous "Vicky Cristina", it represents the third ingredient without which the film would not seem complete.