The Film (5/5)
OK, I have to confess my cinematic sin here. Before the Criterion Blu-ray of Barcelona ended up in my mailbox, I had not seen any film by Whit Stillman. For some reason I had never made the time to do so, and now I find myself absolutely regretting that decision. Now, that I have seen one of his film's I find it odd that I waited, because his are the type of films I find myself most inspired by as both a writer and a fan. These range from Woody Allen's body of work, to the film's of Hal Hartley, the indie films of Richard Linklater, and beyond.
Barcelona tells the story of 2 cousins who are brought together in the titular Spanish city when one of them is temporally stationed there during a Naval assignment. Ted is a sales representative for a large company based out of his Chicago hometown. He constantly worries about his performance, and studies sales literature by former masters of the business. Into his life comes his cousin Fred. Fred is a Navy Lieutenant who finds himself stationed in Barcelona without much in the way of funds, and intrudes upon his cousins existence.
The pair haven't seen each other in quite a long time, and when they last did, it wasn’t in good standing. However, as they are now paired up with each other in a foreign city they begin to explore its nightlife together. They talk about life, politics, and women, and eventually catch the eye of two locals Marta (Mira Sorvino) and Montserrat (Tushka Bergen). The cousins try to hit it off with the two girls, and though at first things seem great, layers begin to peel back, and reveal that the initial compatibility may have been an illusion.
Barcelona is simply a fantastic slice of cinema. If someone were looking for an indie romance, I'd probably say they'd walk away disappointed, but as a dialogue driven character piece the film is quite a notable success. Barcelona lives and dies by 2 elements its characters and its dialogue, and in both areas it is a notable success. The 2 main characters though they certainly feel like they fall into an 80’s yuppie stereotype, are performed and written so well that one can feel true dimension in their characters. The dialogue also by Stillman is quite effective in putting the characters in a certain intellectual class that isn’t depicted in too many films. It is well written, and engaging.
The performances across the board are excellent with not a weak one in the bunch, and considering how dialogue heavy the film is that is very important here. The direction from Stillman is quite solid, offering some very glamorous looks at Barcelona at night, while allowing the camera to flow with the conversations happening in the film. The film is paced quite well, and I never thought a single moment was dull here. Needless to say I am going to be hunting down Stillman's 2 other 90's films very quickly.
Criterion have presented Barcelona with a quite spectacular 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The Blu-ray looks quite nice with excellent detail throughout, well reproduced colors, and a healthy organic structure. There are some softer moments here, but those are more the nature of the production than the transfer itself.
The audio is English DTS-HD 2.0 and works quite well dialogue and score come though nicely, and I did not detect any pops cracks, or hissing on the track.
Criterion has put together quite a solid extras package for their release of Barcelona. The Blu-ray has a commentary by Stillman, deleted scenes, interviews, TV show episodes featuring Stillman, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a video essay, and more.
Barcelona is an excellent example of a 90’s dialogue driven indie with an intellectual drive to it. The Blu-ray from Criterion looks and sounds fantastic, and has a wonderful slate of extras HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.