Barcelona (SE)/ A-,B
Warner/1994/101/ANA 1.85

     One might suspect from the title that Barcelona would be filled with travelogue views of the beautiful and sophisticated city, but, if anything, director Whit Stillman is a mite too stingy with postcard camera set-ups. The point is,  this is not a film about place;  it’s merely a jumping off point from which the humorous characters Stillman has concocted may interact and share their entertaining views on life with each other and an appreciative audience. Barcelona is not a rolling in the aisles comedy, but for most of the film it insinuates its style and humor into the consciousness of each person experiencing it.
Ted is the representative of a large company doing business in Europe. He’s fascinated with the European Trade Fair girls, lives in a comfortable apartment and is obsessed with self help books. His life is comfortable, perhaps a trifle complacent, but he seems to be doing an excellent job for his firm. When his cousin Fred, a naval officer, arrives as an “advance man” for the Sixth Fleet, nothing will ever be the same. Ted and Fred are very different spirits, and Ted harbors ill will toward his outgoing cousin from a childhood incident many years ago. It doesn’t help things much when he practically insists on staying as a guest in Ted’s apartment and when they party with some of the ladies of the Trade Fair, Fred is delighted to advise the them of his cousin Ted’s passion for leather under garments. Fred drives Ted up the wall.

The old leather strap story. ©Warner

     Barcelona is devilishly droll. During an outing in the country, Ted, trying to explain United States foreign policy to a radical leftist Spanish newspaper columnist, opportunely seizes on a group of black and red ants foraging in the grass as an example. When Ted is put on the defensive by an obnoxious counter-attack by the columnist, Fred ends the moment with a flourish neatly and casually crushing the red ants. It is a terrific moment. It also serves to define the differences between the two cousins so perfectly. Ted, caught dancing unawares in the apartment is another wonderful scene. The humor is mixed generously with charming romance. There is but one jarring moment when the film takes a sharp and unexpected turn. It almost destroyed the mood the first time I saw it, but the second time around, without the shock, Barcelona was even better.
Stillman’s players are very appealing and decidedly fresh. Taylor Nichols is the perfect “preppy” overseas. Chris Eigeman shines as cousin Fred. The ladies are an interesting mix and make for a totally appealing group. Mira Sorvino is a standout as the girl with the sticky fingers. Stillman’s direction is at all times confident. He knows these characters well. He guides the camera to detailed images and handsomely lit scenes. The music by Mark Suozzo is an excellent accompaniment to this trip to Barcelona
     Overall, Barcelona is a clean transfer, very easy to look at, with the excellent score recorded with an effectively open sound field. Good blacks with excellent accompanying shadow detail. Night scenes have plenty of sparkle. People are lit beautifully in the night scenes and the transfer replicates the effect perfectly. Light output is very strong and contrast provides theatrical pop. Some of the exteriors appear slightly over-exposed, though they are supposed to be sunny.  The image is delivered mostly sharp with very little edge artifacting, though high peak edginess does sneak in occasionally. The Chinese lanterns at the outdoor party display wonderful color saturation.
Warner slips Barcelona in as a deserved special edition. Audio commentary from director Whit Stillman and stars Taylor Nichols and Christopher Eigeman is the center-piece formed around a making of documentary, deleted scenes with commentary and an alternate ending. It's a first-rate package.
  Barcelona is a film to visit on numerous occasions. Stillman is a taste to acquire.



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