In his 1968 Iberia, James Michener wrote, “To travel across Spain and finally reach Barcelona is like drinking a respectable red wine and finishing up with a bottle of champagne.” From the late 80s, especially since the Olympics of 1992, and right up to the present, it’s even truer: Barcelona is the quintessential European metropolis, an optimum Paris on the Mediterranean complete with its own Eiffel Tower—Gaudí’s magnificently eclectic El Templo de la Sagrada Familia. Updating, Michener would call Spain’s intellectual and publishing center the Dom Perignon of the continent. From atop the Muntanya de Montjuic, Barcelona is slightly deceptive in scale—an urban Guanajuato. Traversing by foot or subway, it’s so continually a picturesque surprise of spacious, manicured boulevards, centuries-old narrow-street neighborhoods, endless architectural delights by Gaudí, Domènech, Puig, Miró, Sagnier, that you bemoan the egregious lack of moviemaker appreciation. And anyone who’s been there knows that it deserves much better than what Whit Stillman gives us in his Barcelona. Putting it mildly: Stillman should be required to rename it—to Barfalona. The movie isn’t about the city or its dwellers; it’s about two snot-nosed American cousins pretending to be Woody Allen-like Reaganites foisting puffed-up, bogus Hemingway on any Barcelonian deemed Eurotrash. Does director-writer Stillman have a case of the hates against the city he claims to love? Rhetorical question: the dwellers in general are treated with contempt and the city is never photographed to show its true metropolitan flavor. Shortly into this yupchucker one of these two asinine Americans whines about the lack of Barcelonian appreciation for Americans having died ridding Europe of fascism. What Stillman never mentions is that while America—along with its allies, of course—rid Europe of Hitler and Mussolini, Spain was left in the grips of fascism until Franco’s death in 1975. But Stillman, who lived in Barcelona for several years and married a resident, has no respect for his host’s history: he repeatedly swacks Barcelonians for their anti-Americanism and uses it as a form of ersatz self-righteousness. Lovers of Barcelona know where Stillman’s head is—up his ass. The cousins are played as well as they’re directed, which is to say that there’s no faulting how they perform the numbskulls Stillman penned for them. (Is there any way to trust a writer who names one of his characters Montserrat?) Taylor Nichols, as a salesman based in Barcelona, has the cutie boy charm of Casper Weinberger, Orson Bean and Robert Desiderio. But you don’t believe a word he says about anything. (He does have one asset—his seductive swagger of a walk. He’d make a sensational aristocratic misogynist.) His cousin, played by Chris Eigeman, is more closely related to E!’s former gossip Michael Castner. You have to wonder how it could ever be that the U.S. Navy would send this jerk to Barcelona as an advance man to test the “welcome waters.” Of course, the Navy wouldn’t; it’s Stillman’s fantasy. Only once is there something about the character that rings true and is funny: when he mimics Benjamin’s howls of “Elaine! Elaine!” from The Graduate. Barcelona is such a crock that Stillman postulates the city’s women became sexually revolutionized in the early 80s. Nonsense. The liberalization of sexual mores actually began in the mid 60s, when German and Swede Suecas came down to the sunny beaches of Spain’s Costa del Sol and bounced around topless to the delight of the Spanish male population. Though it took Franco’s death to unleash their own sexual assertiveness and independence, Spanish women consented to sex without commitment or the burdens of Catholic guilt long before it became publicly fashionable. And can you believe there are critics out there who, in one breath, think Stillman has an attitudinal resemblance to Henry James, and in the next breath claim he’s a combo of Buñuel and wacky Almodóvar? No forgiveness for that. Speaking to a reporter, Stillman used the following excuse for his prissified attitudes and Reaganesque context: “By being kind of square you can get into material that isn’t open to other people. I feel square—insulated from the cool.” Creating illusions by disposing of fact, Stillman’s the type who would likely trick us into believing there’s a nimbus of virtue surrounding the Valley of the Fallen. (Just what Ronnie tried at Bitburg.) Barcelona should sue Stillman for defamation.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.