You have to be careful with recent Woody Allen. I had all but given up on him when Match Point came out. That was a masterwork. Scoop was useless but not as atrocious as cinematic abortions like Hollywood Ending. Cassandra’s Dream was in general very good, but it rushed its climax. Even if he hasn’t gotten back to the same level as Match Point, it’s becoming clear that Woody has been reinvigorated by the post-American phase he’s in. So when I saw that he’d made a movie about two women living an expat lifestyle in Barcelona and that it was getting rave comparisons to Match Point, I had to see it.

The good news about Vicky Christina Barcelona is that it is one of the good recent Woody Allen movies. The bad news is that, like Cassandra’s Dream, it rushes its climax and leaves a dissatisfying aftertaste.

The movie uses the story of Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson), two friends, American students, who are spending a spending a summer Spain. As the wry literary narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) explains, Christina is looking for irrational, passionate love; Vicky is the more staid of the two, who wants a steady, vanilla relationship. Or so they think.

With the two characters, Woody sets up a dialectic about the nature of love and has a lot of fun challenging their and our assumptions. Both, during the course of the film, will fall for the passionate, mysterious Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem).

Bardem is fantastic and so is the surprise cast member who plays his ex-wife, Maria Elena. Johansson is tolerable (except for a scene in an airplane where she slips back into her Woody Allen impersonation from Scoop). It is Rebecca Hall, who I was tepid about in The Prestige who is the big surprise. She is supremely natural in the scene where Juan Antonio baldly proposes that they make love. Watching her journey from complete certitude about her future to complete incertitude is the dramatic core of the film.

One technical note. There were at least two shots in the film that were badly out of focus. I don’t want to blame the focus puller because there are equipment reasons this could have happened and because the photography in the film is very strong in general. It seems DP Javier Aguirresarobe needs some quality control.