400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.
Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (221 screens) has earned some good reviews, but not particularly great ones. I'm not sure many critics have really understood its significance. I think they just stayed on their usual pro- or anti-Woody Allen bandwagon and reviewed it according to how funny or not funny it was, or how Woody Allen-ish the dialogue sounded. Or worse, they brought Allen's private life into it and attacked it for its supposedly twisted sexuality. But Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a major step in the career of this tricky artist, more so than the critical darling Match Point three years ago.
One drawback to Allen's career is that he started out as a blatant comic filmmaker with films like Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death. Then, movies like Annie Hall, Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanors cleverly melded comedy into dramatic situations, but the damage had been done: he was once and always "just" a comedian, forever lower on the scale than his contemporaries (Altman, Scorsese, Coppola, etc.). His other drawback is that he keeps making "Woody Allen" movies, in which the credits always look the same, the musical choices are always the same, the cinematography always looks great, and everyone talks the same. Often, but not always, the same actors appear. Who does this remind you of?