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Cannes, Day 4: boxers and bimbos and Boogie

Posted by Ty Burr  May 17, 2008 04:30 AM

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I think I enjoyed Woody Allen’s new movie, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” a lot more than I should have. Certainly more than the people who gave it scattered boos after its Out of Competition screening here last night.

I should preface this by saying that the Woodman’s last few movies – okay, his last 10 or so – have struck me as a lot less than meets the eye. His British sojourn has resulted in one comeback film (“Match Point”) that’s still an ugly bit of misogyny, one cute botch (“Scoop”), and one rehash of “Crimes and Misdemeanors” worth seeing for the rare but true Colin Farrell performance (“Cassandra’s Dream”).

So when Allen decided to jaunt to Spain, my guard went up. And it’s true that “VCB” is travel porn at its most arrant, an upscale tourist fantasy of Barcelona locations and table settings, fine wines and clichéd Catalan studs whispering outre sexual possibilities in the ears of shallow, susceptible American women. But here’s the thing: the clichéd Catalan stud is played by Javier Bardem, and the turistas are played by Scarlett Johansson and the divine Rebecca Hall (she’s British, actually, and the daughter of renowned English stage director Sir Peter Hall, but who’s counting?), and for added measure here’s Penelope Cruz (above) as Bardem’s psycho ex-wife, coming at everyone with a kitchen knife and a dark Spanish curse.

In other words, the movie’s inordinate, even ridiculous fun, despite an overly chatty narrative track (not sure by whom at this writing) that I wanted to slap down after about five minutes. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is about the seduction of the American friends – one tightly wound (Hall) and the other chasing a twit’s idea of bohemianism (Johansson) – by a moody painter (Bardem) who’s still in love with a crazy lady (Cruz, who walks off with the movie).

Allen, ever the snob, mocks his ugly Americans every chance he gets, but Hall’s a smart enough actress to rescue some dignity from her role – I wish I could say the same for Johansson – and Bardem is simply delicious as a post-Valentino roué who’s just as sexy but not quite as smart as he thinks. When he, Johansson, and Cruz settle into a sensual ménage a trois, it’s hard not to think Allen has become the dirty old man of the movies. However he gets his jollies, though, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is an unexpected picnic – a lightweight New Yorker short story lit up with real warmth. And the Gaudi architecture looks great, of course; you think Woody went here for the waters?

By contrast, the saddest film I’ve seen at Cannes – and that’s saying something – is “Tyson,” James Toback’s documentary about boxer Mike Tyson. Well, “documentary” is a misnomer: the movie’s more a pained confession that resolves nothing, a penetration of mystery that merely reveals further mysteries. Most docs round up a whole crew of experts and talking heads, but Toback, still a maverick 30 years after “Fingers,” gives us only Mike himself, touring us through his violent, misunderstood life in that high, oddly thoughtful lisp. The tragedy is that, by the end, Tyson, an old man at age 40, seems to have acquired self-knowledge but not genuine wisdom; he has renounced the animal within but seems uncertain with what to replace it. You come out of the movie hoping for the best and fearing for the worst, which already is a more nuanced position than you probably went in with. A strong, troubling work, with some astonishing fight footage from the 80s and 90s. (Yes, the Evander Holyfield ear-chomping is here; how could it not be?)

Tyson and Toback were present at the evening screening, the fighter with his children, the director with his aura of truculent near-genius. When I get a chance, I'll upload some video of Tyson greeting the audience, who cheered him, rather too easily, as a survivor. The movie’s point is that he’s survived only himself, which doesn’t make his appearance in the alien world of Cannes any less touching.

Quick Takes: “Boogie,” in the Director’s Fortnight series, is the first New Romanian film I’ve seen in a while that didn’t utterly bowl me over; it’s perfectly okay without breaking much new ground. Director Radu Muntean tells the tale of Bogdan, aka “Boogie” (Dragos Bukur) a young married-with-kid who runs into a pair of old friends while on vacation and reverts to his bad old ways during one long night. The scenes between the three pals and the prostitute have a tawdry honesty, and Anamaria Marinca (the discovery of “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”) is believably worn down as Boogie’s wife, but where films like “4 Months” or “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” use grubby realism to accrete powerful meaning over the long haul, “Boogie” just feels like, well, a long haul. Men are dogs, even when they’re good husbands and fathers. Tell me something I don’t know.

"Linha de Passe," from Walter Salles of "Central Station" and Daniela Thomas -- Oy, what a movie to start Day 5 with. An expertly filmed slice of Sao Paulo kitchen-sink realism, it tells of a family of poverty-stricken brothers who between them represent the many aspects of Brazil's soul: soccer, sin, Jesus Christ, etc. Also bleak, bleak, bleak. Salles can really make movies, and he just lovingly ground my face in this one.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is's features editor.

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