Whit Stillman followed his delightful indie breakthrough Metropolitan with another clever and garrulous comedy of manners, this one with a darker edge. A pair of preppy yet constitutionally mismatched American cousins—a salesman and a navy officer—argue about romance and politics while working in the beautiful Spanish city of the film’s title. Set during the eighties,Barcelona explores topics both heady (American exceptionalism, Cold War foreign policy) and hilarious (the ins and outs of international dating, the proper shaving method) while remaining a constantly witty delight, featuring a sharp young cast that includes Taylor Nichols, Chris Eigeman, and Mira Sorvino.
Following up his debut 'Metropolitan', Whit Stillman's 'Barcelona' is the second in his Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love trilogy, which would be followed up four years later by 'The Last Days of Disco', all of which are now available from the Criterion Collection with this release, individually or in a set.
Set in Barcelona, Spain, during the '80s as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union waned, the story focuses on two American cousins, Ted (Taylor Nichols) and Fred Boyton (Chris Eigemen). Ted is a car-company executive who has been living in Barcelona. Fred is a Navy officer working as an advance man for the arrival of the Sixth Fleet. He shows up unannounced on Ted's doorstep looking for a place to stay.
Although living abroad certainly has romantic connotations, the ideal is not the reality. Ted is insecure about keeping his job and about himself after a recent break-up. He has an idealized version of love and romance, assuming profound emotional bonds are required of all women before they enter into sexual relationships. He resolves to go out with plain or rather homely girls because he has had trouble with beautiful women.
Of course, his position doesn't last long as he starts a relationship with the attractive Monsterrat (Tushka Bergen). After sleeping together, he learns she is in an open relationship with a journalist named Ramon (Pep Munné), who can't have sex with a woman once he knows her well. Things seem to be progressing until they come to an abrupt stop.
Fred has his own conflicts as well, which also involve Ramon. Some of the locals are not pleased with NATO or the U.S. yet Fred frequently wears his uniform about the town. After a bombing at the USO building, resulting in the death of a sailor, Ramon says it was a false flag operation by the Americans. He goes further and writes that Fred is a CIA operative.
'Barcelona' begins as a comedy of manners with Ted and Fred engaging in funny banter as they try to make sense of life, love, and relationships. While it's already tough enough for young men to understand young women, their American sensibilities seem to complicate matters as they try and connect with Spanish women.
In the third act, the plot takes a very dark turn, and even though the tone changes abruptly, Stillman is able to guide the characters and the story in a way that seems authentic to what has gone before.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Barcelona' (#807 in The Criterion Collection) comes on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a folded leaflet containing the essay "Innocence Abroad," an essay by film scholar Haden Guest.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. "Supervised by director Whit Stillman and cinematographer John Thomas, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the 35mm A/B original camera negative, at MTI Film in Los Angeles. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI's DRS, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jiter, and flicker," as stated in the liner notes.
Blacks are inky and show strong separation between black objects as Ted and Fred drive through the city at night. The colors appear in strong hues. The women working the trade show wear vibrant red blazers, rich browns are on display in Ted's apartment and office, and the green grass seen during Ramon's picnic looks lush and natural. Skin tones are accurate and consistent.
The film grain is noticeable and well resolved. The image delivers very fine texture detail, as seen on in the folds and decoration of the flamboyant costume Marta (Mira Sorvino) wears to the party. It also offers great depth within scenes.
The liner notes also state, "the original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm original magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX4. Please be sure to enable Dolby Pro Logic decoding on your receiver to properly play the Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack.
The film is dialogue heavy and all the voices are understandable, except the scene where Fred leaves Marta's home, and the music slightly drowns out the dialogue. There are some moments of strong ambiance, such as rain effects, which add space around the characters. Mark Suozzo's score and the diegetic music blend well with the other elements. Other than the music, an explosion is when the bass is very active. The track sounds free of wear and defect.
Whit Stillman's 'Barcelona' is an enjoyable comedy made for adults, a phrase that used to suggest "smart and sophisticated" rather than "filled with nudity and cursing" as it so often does now. The Blu-ray is visually appealing, the audio is more than satisfactory, and the extras are a great addition to the experience.