- Anna Paul
Here’s a range of films set in Barcelona that look beyond the city’s beautiful veneer and show us the people, their idiosyncrasies, and the city’s sometimes gritty underside.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2002)
Starring the sexy ensemble of Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johanson, Penélope Cruz, and Rebecca Hall, Woody Allen’s deceptive drama is about two American girls’ summering in Barcelona and the relationships they forge with two parted lovers. It features major landmarks, late-night restaurants, and evenings spent sipping wine on terraces to the sounds of a Spanish guitar. It might not be the Barcelona that the locals know, but a little escapism is always welcome.
L’auberge espagnole/The Spanish Apartment (2002)
Cédric Klapisch’s comedy centers on Xavier, a twenty-something French student who leaves his life and girlfriend to study in Barcelona for a year. It is filled with the kinds of experiences one encounters while living abroad, and it is bursting with images of many familiar Barcelona landmarks. The trailer’s claiming that “no-one speaks the same language, but everyone understands you” rings true.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful is a harrowing drama about a career criminal (Javier Bardem) whose life is spiraling out of control. It’s realism and the hand-held camerawork feel relentless.
Jaume Balaguero’s horror franchise is too fright-a-minute for the average moviegoer but will please zombie fanatics. Featuring grainy hand-held camerawork and shot in the Eixample district, [Rec] is the story of a night-time TV reporter and her cameraman who take what they think is an innocuous call from a woman trapped in her apartment.
Todo Sobre Mi Madre/All About My Mother (1999)
This Pedro Almodóvar film follows a handful of dysfunctional characters in Barcelona who are forced to confront their demons. As the protagonist, Manuela (Cecilia Roth), travels into Barcelona through a train tunnel, we see the mass of glimmering lights ahead of her. She passes by familiar sites such as the Sagrada Familia before passing into the seedier part of Barcelona. However, such polarities are precisely what makes the city so exciting.
Land and Freedom (1995)
Ken Loach’s film recounts the experience of an idealistic young Liverpudlian Communist (Ian Hart) who travels to Barcelona to fight against the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. It is cut from the same cloth as George Orwell’s memoir Homage to Catalonia. The most discussed scene is the collectivization debate involving members of the Marxist POUM militia and local farmers.
Whit Stillman’s film is about Barcelona during the 1980s when Cold War tensions were still imprinted on the consciousness of Americans and Europeans alike. Like Allen, Stillman makes contrasts between American and Spanish culture, and the result this time is not a steamy ménage à trois, but instead, a likeable comedy of manners. Based on Whitman’s own experiences in the city, the film is full of snappy dialogue.