Portrait of an Artist in Black Top Sneakers

The first time Javier Bardem appears on-screen in Vicky Christina Barcelona, a lusciously photographed film set in Barcelona, he’s leaning against a wall in an art gallery looking forlorn. And, he’s wearing sneakers. The black top-white shoelace kind of sneakers that you see in a movie set in Barcelona about an artist picking up women for a ménage trios weekend. Bardem, in the role of a painter, exudes sex just as his character Anton Chigurh in No County for Old Man oozed evilness. The sexy ooze and the black top sneakers accompany Bardem in every scene he’s in. Except, of course, when he’s in bed.

In Vicky Christina Barcelona, Woody Allen explores the idea that fulfilment in a relationship or marriage is hard to meet. It’s unreachable for all the characters, except Rebecca Hall’s fiancé. Hall’s character thought she had it down, until she meets Bardem who cracks open her placid white-picket fence dream. Bardem’s character failed at marriage, but he and his ex-wife—played by Penelope Cruz—have another go at it when Scarlett Johansson’s character provides an interlude from violence and brings them back to love—or at least love-making. Cruz, also a painter, becomes a muse for Johansson who had taken up art photography. The two become lovers, and Johansson, already Bardem’s live-in lover, enjoys a quiet domestic life with the two artists. Until she gets bored and returns to the U.S with Hall.

In this Woody Allen film, Javier Bardem upstages the director. Though it might not have anything to do with the film, but everything to do with the company I keep. My friends don’t seem to like Woody Allen’s movies. My women friends, that is, and so instead of asking have you see the new Woody Allen film, I say, Have you seen the latest Javier Bardem movie? Upon discovering I’m talking about the new Woody Allen film, one girlfriend complained that he doesn’t write interesting female roles. Aside from that statement being untrue—Vicky Christain Barcelona has four great female roles played by Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, Rebecca Hall, and Patricia Clarkson—I wonder why feminist-thinking women believe it’s the male directors’ role to make remarkable films about women. Casting himself in many of his movies, Woody Allen ensured his women characters possessed a higher sensibility. In this movie, the director has the good sense to stay out of it. On the other hand, some male friends don’t like Woody Allen films either. Not enough action. Too much dialogue. His movies are for women, one guy said. Woody Allen just can’t win.

But there’s plenty of us who like, and even love his work. For me, seeing a Woody Allen film is like going to see an old uncle, once a year or so. The pasty wallpaper and dusty unkempt rooms breathe comfort and ease. And as the decades roll by, the uncle’s stories, some common, some new, have a reassuring familiarity about them. When the film credits—set in the familiar white typeface Windsor on black—roll down the movie screen, I slide down in my seat, ready for a fine, undemanding visit.

Here’s a secret

In the film, the three lovers enjoy espresso made in the Italian Bialetti espresso maker. The Bialetti Moka Express model makes great regular coffee, too. The 3-cup model makes one small cup of coffee and the 9-cup yields 2 large cups. Bialetti sure beats the $1,000 plus coffee makers that Starbucks peddle.

I don’t believe in the after life, although I am bringing a change of underwear.
—Woody Allen

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