Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Barcelona: the movies

In the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot of talk about Woody Allen's new movie 'Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona'. Last Saturday I decided to go to the movies with my wife and watch it. I felt a little bit nervous, because I was not totally sure how my city and my country Catalonia would be portrayed. I was hoping that Woody Allen would, at least, reflect a little bit the Catalan culture and language.

The movie was OK, no masterpiece, but, in a way, entertaining. However the way Barcelona was portrayed was a total disappointment. Barcelona was only used as a postcard, as a beautiful setting and that was all. At the beginning of the film, there were a few references to Catalonia as a result of the one million Euro subsidy by the Barcelona mayor (by the way, and excellent investment, since I am sure that American tourists will pour into the city), but the plot was more suited for Madrid, Seville, Oviedo or Albacete. The non American protagonists, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz had nothing that I would qualify as Catalan, not even the name, Bardem's character, the Catalan painter, was called Juan Antonio Gonzalo and was born in Oviedo. In addition to that, I found Penelope Cruz's character vulgar and uninspiring (and she even had a line with a very racist comment against Chinese that embarrassed me and my wife, not her fault but the Director's, but really unacceptable)
I think that "Vicky, Cristina, Oviedo" would have been a much better choice for title. It is funny that in the Catalan version of the movie the Americans speak Catalan and the "alleged" Catalans speak Spanish to each other (though the trailer tries to hide this fact). Not even the signage was in Catalan.
The only good news for Catalan Don Juans is that if the approach a pair of American girls having dinner in a Barcelona restaurant and they propose to them a one night stand, there is a 50/50 chance that they will not be rejected flat out, and the probability improves if they sport a 3-day beard.

The best thing of the night, however, was dinner. We went to Legal Seafood in Peabody (MA). We had Cape Cod oysters, pan seared tuna (almost raw) with soya sauce and wasabe, crab cakes and Sam Adams summer ale. After two minutes, my irritation was gone.

On the flip side, a few weeks ago, while trying to Netflix Woody Allen's movie to put it in my cue, I discovered a 1994 movie called Barcelona. Though that movie was no masterpiece either and actually had some remote similarities with Woody Allen's one, I found that it reflected Barcelona's character much better and avoided the stereotypes in many occasions. The main female characters are called Montserrat Raventos and Marta Ferrer, they have fair hair and there is clear evidence that the movie Director Whit Stillman understood the differences between the Catalan and the Spanish culture and was sensitive enough to have Catalan actors playing the secondary roles (Pep Munné and Núria Badia).
Despite all this, he succumbed to the pressures of the producer and had to add a flamenco scene (you know, the usual flamenco dance that Catalan girls rehearse after the daily nap*).



* Note for the "guiris": I am kidding

14 comments:

Jordi said...

"and she even had a line with a very racist comment against Chinese that embarrassed me and my wife, not her fault but the Director's, but really unacceptable"

Well that didn't take long did it? Ian clearly believes that he is one of the very few people on this earth who have the "moral authority" to criticise those who purvey racism (check his comments on the last post he did and you will see). Something smells very bad around here: probably that huge dose of hypocrisy that Ian has just serverd up.

ian llorens said...

Jordi,
Have you watched the movie? If you have, what do you think about Maria Elena's comment about the Chinese spoken in Chinese restaurant kitchens? In my modest opinion and with no moral authority, it goes against the generally agreed guidelines in USA to deal with the sensitivities related to diversity and race.
In Spain, those conventions are not very well established yet, and most of the people make mistakes out of ignorance, rather than intentionally. That was my point in my previous post.

Johnny Tastavins said...

Despite you can hate the association between flamenco and Barcelona, it's real. You can go to Plaça Reial or Poble Espanyol and will find amazing flamenco shows and dancers. And I like them!

ian llorens said...

Johnny,
I do not like flamenco, but that's not the point here.
Does your sister dance flamenco every afternoon?

See ya tomorrow. I am looking forward to it.

qfwfq78 said...

I agree, the movie is ok, but far from good. This, regarding to the movie itself.

As for the announced "catalan identity" it's just a bad joke. But I did not expect better.
It's however a pity that the existance of catalan is not even mentioned since it would have helped. This ignorance generates misunderstandings when people come to do a bit more than just tourism and encounter a different linguistic reality than they expected.

A better example is, "L'auberge espagnol", at least acknowledges its existance and portrays Barcelona better, not just as a postcard.

Sara said...

I'm not a great fan of Woody Allen, but ever since he received the title of doctor honoris causa from UPF I've wanted to see the film as I thought it would be a great portrait of the city. As the name of the city is included in the title of the film I had pretty high expectations.

My experience, however, tells me that a film very seldom manages to capture “my city”. “Notting Hill” for example is a great nostalgia trip, but it only shows some carefully chosen aspects of Notting Hill/ Ladbroke Grove. Barcelona as a postcard will be another nostalgia trip, even though there’s so much more to the city…

”L'auberge espagnol" could have been so much better - the story has potential, but I dislike the shape… I agree with qfwfq78 though, the film gives a decent account of what Barcelona might be, at least in the eyes of a foreigner, which goes beyond being just a beautiful postcard. Still, it’s a portrait of one specific Barcelona, not Barcelona as a whole…

Anonymous said...

Okaay, ppl!
The movie is not a detailed report about catalan culture, just a postcard (as Sara says), but you can compare it with films that take place in Paris, what do you get? Tour Eiffel, c.Elysees, and baguette. It is difficult to put much culture in an -american- film that is not meant to do so. At least we got the postcard!

TrikkyG said...

No No No. When will you learn anonymous? If something is shown to the rest of the world and is based in Catalonia, it absolutely must have people dancing the sardana, eating botifara and building human castles. Never ever should any Castillian dialog be heard. Failing on any of these points is a statement against Catalonia and all Catalans. God you idiots are so annoying. And anti-Catalan. Obviously. Just like the rest of the world.

qfwfq78 said...

trikkyg, you either did not read the post or consciously distorted it with your "insightful" sarcasm.

Nobody is calling Allen or anyone else an anti-catalan. We express our disappointment at the fact that catalan language is not spoken even once, not even mentioned.

Castillian sustains itself in Catalonia by its own weight. In my case it is my mother tongue as well. Nobody claims that speaking castillian is being anti catalan.

But we do try to promote catalan use and awareness of its existence. Catalan is at the core of our culture and we try to sustain it as difficult as it is for minority languages in Europe and the world.

Why is trying to promote one's culture and language a bad thing? Do you think that viewpoints expressed here are fundamentally wrong?

If you please, try to answer without sarcasm, thanks

ian llorens said...

I seems that Catalans are supposed to apologize for trying to continue to be what they have been for centuries, even in our own city, the capital of the county of Barcelona, that already in 1117 was assimilated to the concept of Catalonia (as documented in the Pisan document Liber Maiolichinus).

My initial statement was very balanced:
"I was hoping that Woody Allen would, at least, reflect a little bit the Catalan culture and language."
Any problem? If you have a problem with this statement, I could not care less.

I would have preferred that the movie be called "Vicky, Cristina, Oviedo" and I speak it from the heart.

Anonymous said...

Bonhora, I dont know if u heard about another catalonia-advertisement. This time is the latest book from Noah Gordon, called "The bodega", wich takes place in la terra alta (our Highlands!). The title in german is "Der Katalonien" and its about...u already guessed... catalan wine! Thats the way to go!

ian llorens said...

Anonymus,
Thanks for the tip, I will buy the book. Actually all my Catalan ancestors (the Llorens family) come from Terra Alta, I even have there a small piece of property with olive trees I inherited from my grandfather many years ago.
I am very familiar with "lo vi de Batea i Gandesa".

There is also a non flattering book called The Catalans by Patrick O'Brian. It depicts the life and character of the French Catalans. Not flattering, as I said, but worth reading. Maybe I will publish a post about it in the future.

Nuri said...

I read The Bodega recently, in its catalan translation. I loved it. I think it depicts catalans really well, without making any political claims (even though spanish politics play a key role in the plot). As I read it, I continuosly forgot it was actually written by an American. The only critic I have is that I would've liked to see more Catalan names (most characters had castillian surnames), but hey, it's a small detail in the overall story.

Anonymous said...

Oh, do you really have blonde girls in Catalunya? Gosh! How very different you are from Spanish people!