TO the Editor
RE Editor’s Note, RCR, Fall 2008

Unlike yourself, I thoroughly enjoyed VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA [VCB] and ELEGY for what they are worth—lots. Your opinions, expressed within the framework of some standard critical method of comparison and contrast, seem triggered by yet not generative of a fair appreciation of two different films with different intentions; VCB is especially victimized by your attack.

VCB is meta-satire: no less than Woody Allen’s large-scale send-up of the entire phenomenon of his own long-standing auteur-audience cinematic affair. If VCB is just a fantasy crowd-pleaser pandering to an “… audience … lap[ping] it up with belief-suspended pleasure ….”; if Allen is not making fun of our infatuation with Latin lovers, with flaky American girls and flimsy Ameri­can expatriates; if costumes and settings and cameras are not angled in just such a way as to mimic the seductive yet transparent deceptions of advertising—then I’m in deep trouble because it all seems comedic self-parody to me!

While you seem to have missed this about VCB’s big picture, you do intimate its essentially parodic premise, identifying the indulgence of the “auteur’s fantasies”, the “pantomimes of seduction” and the squeezing of “cliché”, even pointing out how Allen “toys with … creations as two-dimensional embodiments of stock ideas…” Indeed he does and the voice-over narration, which you tag as a writing problem, is instead a clever narrative device designed to tip the viewer off about just how seriously to size up this serio-comic melodrama, i.e. not very.

With broad strokes and a fine air brush, painting a series of tableaus in a dystopian fic­tion, Allen illustrates the human capacity to fool oneself. The compulsivities controlling these characters’ lives vitiate their boldest efforts to act on their avowed and unavowed dreams; they do act out their fantasies—as somewhat embarrassing and humiliating failures. Despite the effervescent surfaces of this movie’s mise-en scène, we are being exposed to the sophisticated and integrated vision of a kindly cynic. Allen shows people who don’t change the way they think they can or will or should; they only stand more revealed. The end of one Spanish summer’s fugue brings Vicky, Christina, Juan, Consuela—and presumably all the super-smart folks back at the eternal cocktail party—to their starting places.

VCB may have enjoyed such popular and critical success just because it does so successfully sati­rize us in our time, coupling—in a thoroughly contemporary fashion—one auteur’s adroit exhibitionism with many an audience’s well-ingrained if only more or less unconscious penchant for voyeurism.

Respectfully yours,

Peter B.