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 gaudy 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 deceptive in scale; traversing by foot or subway, its expansiveness becomes a continuous delight of spacious manicured boulevards, centuries-old narrow-street neighborhoods, endless architectural delights by Gaudí, Domènech, Puig, Miró, Sagnier. The pluses make us bemoan the egregious lack of moviemaker appreciation, deserving better than what Whit Stillman gives us in his Barcelona. Downplaying the city and 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? The citizens in general are treated with contempt. 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 omits: while America and allies defeated 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 singlemindedly and repeatedly swacks Barcelonians for their anti-Americanism as a snob reeking of ersatz self-righteousness. Lovers of Barcelona know where Stillman’s head is—up his unwiped ass. (Another tipoff: he names one of his characters Montserrat.) Taylor Nichols, as a salesman based in Barcelona, has the charm of Casper Weinberger, Orson Bean and Robert Desiderio; you don’t believe a word he says about anything. (He does have one asset—a 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. We have to wonder how it could ever be the U.S. Navy would send this jerk to Barcelona as an advance man to test the “welcome waters.” Only once is there something about the character ringing true and funny—when he mimics Benjamin’s howls of “Elaine! Elaine!” from The Graduate. Barcelona is such a crock Stillman postulates the city’s women became sexually revolutionized in the early 80s. The outward liberalization of mores probably began in the mid 60s, sparked by German and Swede suecas coming down to the sunny beaches of Spain’s Costa del Sol to bounce topless to the enthrall of the Spanish male population. Though it took Franco’s death to unleash their own sexual assertiveness and independence, Spanish women had consented to sex without commitment or the burdens of Catholic guilt long before it became publicly fashionable. (Tourists without underground guide books had only to ask cab drivers to take them to where gay bars were located.) And can anyone believe there are critics who, in one breath, think Stillman has an attitudinal alliance to Henry James and in the next breath claim he’s a combo of Buñuel and wacky Almodóvar? 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.