Page last updated at 20:10 GMT, Saturday, 17 May 2008 21:10 UK

Woody Allen's global film mission

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Cannes

Woody Allen and Penelope Cruz
Woody Allen and Penelope Cruz were in Cannes to promote the film

Veteran film-maker Woody Allen has said he would like to make films all across Europe - but he won't go to Russia.

The feted director is in Cannes to launch his latest movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which was funded and made in Spain.

"I'd be happy to make another film in Spain," he told reporters. "And to work in Italy, to work in France, to go back to London again.

"But years ago I visited Russia with my family. I had a terrible, terrible time. It would take a lot to get me back."

The star said he had planned to spend five days in St Petersburg on his Russian visit.

"I was there for about two hours and I went to the travel agent in the hotel and said: 'Get me the first travel reservation out of here. I don't care where it goes.'

"I'm told that it has greatly changed since then, but I'm a fearful traveller, so it would take a lot to get me back to Russia."

Love letter

Vicky Cristina Barcelona has its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday night.

It has been billed as Allen's love letter to Barcelona, and it is packed to the gills with lingering shots of Antoni Gaudi's architecture at the Sagrada Familia cathedral and Park Guell.

Woody was always telling me: 'Believe me, I know people like this'
Penelope Cruz

But the film could equally be a "carta de amor" to Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson or Javier Bardem, actors to whom the master wordsmith gave free reign over his script.

"I leave them to improvise whenever they want," he says.

"I don't even rehearse with them. They just come in and they shoot and they're almost always right."

Spanish star Penelope Cruz ventured that the process was frightening, if liberating.

"It was the first time I had worked with that much freedom in the dialogue," she says.

"That's scary - to have that freedom and to feel that your director is trusting you so much. My other experiences have been very much the opposite."

The laissez faire attitude has worked, however, with the film receiving warm applause at both press screenings in Cannes - marking a return to form for Allen after several years of lacklustre, uneven work.

It follows two American tourists on holiday in Spain - artistic free spirit Cristina (Johansson), and Vicky, a young woman on the verge of marriage played by British actress Rebecca Hall.

Still from Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The film was made on location in Barcelona

Both of them fall for a passionate artist who, according to local rumour, tried to kill his ex-wife.

Bardem plays the hot-headed Juan Antonio with exuberant relish, using his Latin charms to seduce the female characters into bed - in whatever combination he can manage.

His attempts don't start well, with Vicky branding him a "charmingly candid wife beater," but soon she and Cristina both fall for the painter.


Things get even more complicated when the former wife returns to the scene. Maria Elena is a foul-tempered, chaotic mess, brought to life by Cruz in a whirlwind performance.

Her bouts of bilingual bickering with Bardem are a boisterous, comedic triumph, but the actress admits she was not entirely sure her performance would work.

"I was worried about being very out there and very big in every scene," she says.

"But Woody was always telling me: 'Believe me, I know people like this'.

"And I was so grateful because, for a lot of the comedy in those scenes she had to bring that chaos."

But the film is not just pure comedy. Allen is as obsessed as ever with the nature of love and romance.

The key line in the film comes when Bardem's character muses that his fractured relationship with Cruz can never work - "but that's what makes it romantic".

Personal fantasy

As the story unfolds, partnerships are tested, broken and reformed - and Cruz even ends up seducing Johansson.

The "lesbian scene" (it is little more than a kiss) and a threesome with Bardem (also off-screen) caused much discussion after the first screening in Cannes.

Was it one of Allen's personal fantasies, asked one journalist.

Rebecca Hall (left), Woody Allen and Penelope Cruz at Cannes
Journalists pressed Allen over his cinematic threesome

"You know, it's hard enough to get one person," he joked.

"The characters in this movie are able to handle the situation and make it work for a brief period of time.

"In real life, most people couldn't handle the situation in any serious way because it's too complicated.

"It's hard enough to get a relationship that can work out with one person, but with two, it becomes geometrically more fatal."

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