While I am out gallavanting on a road trip (#OregonHo!), my friend Catherine Sweeney, of Traveling with Sweeney volunteered to fill in today with this movie that inspired a trip to Barcelona. Cathy makes me want to see the movie AND go to Barcelona. How about you?
Movie: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
I’ve been a long-time Woody Allen fan, so I was eager to see a film he wrote and directed, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, when it was released in 2008. By the end of the movie, I couldn’t wait to visit Barcelona! When I finally got my chance in 2012 with the annual TBEX (Travel Blogger Exchange) conference set for Girona, a city about 65 miles north of Barcelona, it took me no time at all to decide to attend.
The movie follows close friends Vicky and Cristina (played by Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, respectively) as they experience a summer in Barcelona, providing them both with personal awakenings largely due to the captivating characters of Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and his ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). As the characters are drawn into situations typical of Woody Allen films – relationships, romance, love and angst — we get enticing glimpses of Barcelona, setting a mood of sultry allure.
Many of the scenes set my expectations high and indeed captured the essence of how I envision Barcelona now that I’ve been there. The narrow, stone streets winding through the Gothic Quarter, palm trees blowing in the breeze on a terrace, black and yellow taxis maneuvering down the boulevards alongside ubiquitous scooters, and so many other scenes of Barcelona. In addition to specific filming locations, I got much of my inspiration from key aspects of the film’s artistic ambiance, romantic mood, and characters’ emotions.
In various scenes, life in Barcelona is characterized by high-end shopping along the Passeig de Gracia, browsing the lovely flower stalls on Las Ramblas and lunch at outside cafes like Taller de Tapas on Rambla Cataluna. During our visit, we also experienced these and they made us feel part of the city. As in the movie, walking along the streets of the Gothic Quarter and Eixample District, it seemed there was something interesting in every direction. There’s also a wonderful scene at the amusement park on Tibidabo mountain, high above Barcelona with spectacular views overlooking the city. Our time was short, so this is an activity saved for my next visit.
Lively, sexy, sultry, romantic — that’s the character of Barcelona I felt, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona captured that well. We stayed in the Eixample District of Barcelona where I easily got that vibe with late night dinners of tapas and red wine in restaurants along tree-lined streets. In the movie, Vicky and Cristina are dining at midnight when they meet Juan Antonio, who they had seen at an art gallery party earlier in the evening. After brief introductions and some chit chat, he invites both women to fly with him in a private plane to Oveido (in the Asturias region of Spain) for the weekend, enticing them with lines such as:
“I’ll show you around the city, and we’ll eat well. We’ll drink good wine. We’ll make love.”
Indeed, they end up going with him to Oviedo where there are more romantic and humorous twists and turns. In those scenes, the film offers additional inspiration for traveling to that part of Spain with inviting scenery, wine, and sensual Spanish guitar music.
Back in Barcelona, the movie continues to intrigue and entertain with engaging dialogue, trademark Woody Allen humor, an outstanding performance by Penelope Cruz (for which she was totally deserving of the Oscar she won for the role), and with the romantic and thoughtful plot accentuated by the picturesque location.
Art and Architecture
Through Vicky Cristina Barcelona I also became aware of other aspects of Barcelona that I hadn’t considered before. I wanted to learn more about the Catalan culture and take in the beauty of the city’s architecture.
We learn through narration in the film’s opening scene that Vicky was completing her Master’s Degree in Catalan Identity, a subject in which she became interested because of her admiration of the designs of architect Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, the Catalan capital.
Although I have an avid appreciation for architecture almost everywhere I visit, Vicky Cristina Barcelona was my first introduction to the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. In the movie, Gaudi’s works and his influence throughout the city are captured by Allen through frequent references and in scenes shot in and around Park Gruell, Sagrada Familia, and Casa Milà. In the movie, the friends also walk around the rooftop of Casa Milà (the far building shown in the photo above). On our visit, we got a wonderful view of Gaudi’s works on a walking tour, which also included Gaudi’s Casa Batlló on the “Block of Discord”, his building set between those of other prominent and competing architects of the time (with all three profoundly clashing).
The arts actually play an important role in the movie in general — Maria Elena and Juan Antonio are painters, Juan Antonio and Cristina meet with his circle of artistic friends in bars and cafes, and Cristina is a talented amateur photographer.
The film spurred my interest in learning more about Catalonia and its culture and history. At the time we visited in September of 2012, the efforts toward Catalan independence were at a peak because of a critical vote coming up in November, and there was much unrest due to Spain’s controversial anti-austerity measures. The news was full of related stories and events, and yellow and red striped Catalan independence flags were draped on balconies and windows everywhere. As we traveled throughout Catalonia, we met people who are very proud of their Catalan heritage and language and have a strong passion to keep it alive.
Throughout the movie, Vicky and Cristina struggle with seductive choices. Until the end, you really don’t know which directions these two characters will ultimately choose. Being in Barcelona, you get a feeling of being in a place with exciting, possibly risky opportunities, much like Vicky and Cristina faced.
Our Barcelona experience was short, but long enough to indulge my senses with the sights and tastes of the city. I was initially inspired to visit Barcelona by the sensuality, history, architecture, and romance presented in the movie. By visiting, I was seduced.