After the weekend, Vicky marries her fiancé, and Cristina moves in with Juan — stereotype alert! Let me interrupt the narrative to backtrack a moment. Juan’s father happens to be a Spanish bum who writes beautiful poetry he refuses to share with the world. Juan and Vicky ask why he doesn’t just publish his poems? I guess in Spain publishers will publish anything by anyone, without deference to cronyism, as in the United States. Then we get the beaut of a reason the old man does not publish — he wants to keep beauty from the world because humans have not learnt to love. Ugh! Back to the plot — after a suicide attempt, Juan’s ex-wife Maria Elena moves in. They had famously split, causing a rift in the Spanish art world, after she stabbed him when he eyed another woman. Juan, however, decides to put her up, not long after Cristina has moved in (this is an emotional trope taken straight from Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, but Bardem is no Marcello Mastroianni).
After initial reservations, the trio become sexually involved with each other, the two women even enjoying lesbian romps. Cristina then waffles, decides to move out, and Maria goes crazy, and she and Juan split up. Meanwhile, Vicky’s marriage is not so great, she gets hit on by a student at the University, and mistakes a flirtation by Juan (meant for Cristina) as being directed toward her. Her host (Patricia Clarkson), whom Vicky caught in an infidelity, encourages her to leave her husband for Juan. Knowing that Cristina has left him, Vicky goes to Juan’s apartment, only to be accidentally shot by a raging Maria.
The film ends with gullible and duped Doug (whom the audience never cares for because of the superficiality of his views and actions) never finding out the truth of Vicky’s Barcelona misadventures, nor Cristina ever getting what she wants, for she has no clue what that is. Juan and Maria end up exactly where they were too because, as I stated, the film’s moral is people cannot change. The overall message of the film is one that is, for the most part, true, but there is a gnawing dissatisfaction that this reality was sculpted using such unlikable and predictable characters.
In many respects, the aforementioned La Dolce Vita has a very similar message in it. The difference is that that film has a handful of major themes and this one only one, as well as the fact that the few main characters in the Fellini film are multivalent in their sketchings and the film presents incidents that the viewer can relate to and suffer through with the characters. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the viewer is gazing at the characters. We are at a human zoo. This is satisfactory enough an approach for a work of science, perhaps, but not for a work of art. Art that satisfies just the heart dissipates, because it almost never has enough substance to titillate the brain. But art that strikes at the brain first almost always has enough to seep down and affect the emotions. Allen’s film fails both scores — it is too lightweight intellectually and too cold emotionally.