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Warner Home Video presents
Barcelona (1994)

Marta: You seem very intelligent for an American.
Fred: Well, I'm not.

- Mira Sorvino, Chris Eigeman

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: April 24, 2002

Stars: Taylor Nichols, Chris Eigeman, Tushka Bergen, Mira Sorvino
Other Stars: Pep Munne, Helena Schmied, Nuria Badia, Jack Gilpin, Thomas Gibson
Director: Whit Stillman

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for drug content and a brief sex scene
Run Time: 01h:41m:20s
Release Date: April 02, 2002
UPC: 053939251326
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Writer/director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco) excels in creating sympathy and interest for a rarely seen social group: intellectual yuppies looking for love. His films fall into the genre of romantic comedy, but they offer much more than groan-inducing, contrived plots backed by awful music from artists like Whitney Houston and Sting. The young individuals in Stillman's movies spend much of their time discussing the minute aspects of life at bars, nightclubs, and parties. While they sometimes appear shallow, these characters are more intriguing because their concerns are realistic. They actually have specific occupations and care about them, which immediately places the stories into a unique niche in modern cinema. Barcelona moves two young Americans to a picturesque foreign city in the early 1980s and presents a clever, hilarious and surprising elegant story.

"Positive thinking is fine in theory. But whenever I try it on a systematic basis, I end up really depressed." - Ted

Ted (Taylor Nichols) resides comfortably in Barcelona and works as a salesman for a company located in his hometown of Chicago. His job is going well, but his relations with women have been causing him serious anxiety. In apparent desperation, he enacts a new plan to generate a more intimate connection with the opposite sex. The new tactics stem from the idea that physical beauty distracts from the bond of the soul, and perhaps this has led to problematic dating. So, Ted resolves to only date "plain, or particularly homely" women. It may appear that we're heading towards the realm of dull, formulaic comedy here. However, Stillman's writing never veers in that direction. Ted's new feelings are only one of numerous beliefs stated by the characters, and it occupies only a minor portion of the story.

The tale begins with the arrival of Fred (Chris Eigeman)—Ted's cousin and nearly his exact opposite in personality. He is more fun-loving and silly, with plenty of sarcastic wit available for every situation. A patriotic Navy officer, Fred believes in the ideas of heroism and freedom, and this immediately places him at risk in the volatile atmosphere of the city. Terrorist bombings have taken place at American venues, and there is little amiability towards the soldiers and dignitaries. Regardless of this landscape, he continues to impetuously walk around in his uniform and rant about the unfair treatment of Americans. These discussions often occur amid parties and social gatherings with Spanish journalists who've read a few too many spy novels and the girls who believe them. The conflicts between their American ideals and the foreign viewpoint add a refreshing extra layer to the relationship storyline.

Woman: You can't say Americans are not more violent than other people.
Fred: No.
Woman: "All those people killed in shootings in America?
Fred: Oh, shootings, yes. But that doesn't mean Americans are more violent than other people. We're just better shots.

Barcelona does contain serious conversations about the true nature of American policies, but it succeeds largely due to passionate, inventive moments spent discussing silly subjects. Fred's divergent take on the conclusion of The Graduate is a classic moment and reveals his biting cynicism. On the other hand, his failed attempts to start limbo dancing at a drab party present a more light-hearted side. The language and cultural barriers offer plenty of confusing moments for the lead characters in matters of love. Ted has a difficult time dealing with the open sexual relationships of the culture and clearly does not understand his female counterparts. His relationship with Montserrat (Tushka Bergen) may fall apart due to his intense pride, and he must learn to take it easy and accept certain facts of life to find love.

The impressive cast is bolstered by an excellent group of female actresses who stand up nicely to Nichols and Eigeman. Bergen's bright blond hair differs from the expected Spanish look, and she nicely conveys her character's confusion towards Ted's ideas. Mira Sorvino also appears in an early role with a surprisingly convincing Spanish accent as Marta—an attractive girl who may not be as worthy as she seems. The lead actors both are Stillman veterans and wonderfully master his dialogue style. Eigeman (Kicking and Screaming, It's Like, You Know) always gives memorable performances with his extreme, yet likable sarcasm. Nichols will show up periodically in smaller roles, but he rarely plays a character on this level.

Following the critical success of his debut film, Metropolitan, Whit Stillman faced a serious challenge in topping that original story. Luckily, Barcelona expands the breadth of his characters and offers a beautiful setting for their discussions. The landmarks are bright and stunning, and the women are even more striking. Bolstered by top-notch performances and graceful camera work, this is Stillman's best film.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Barcelona includes a decent 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the majesty of Barcelona in impressive fashion. The bright colors of the city appear nicely and really convey the allure of this renowned city. However, this transfer falls short during certain night scenes where a significant amount of grain appears on the screen. Also, there are some intermittent specks on the print and other minor defects that slightly hinder its effectiveness. Overall, the majority of this transfer functions very well, and only a few small problems keep it from working even better.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
PCMFrench, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Much of this story's effectiveness stems from a lush piano score that adds refreshing elegance to this tale. This 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track provides an enjoyable experience and takes nothing away from the clever events. The abundant dialogue is clear and easily understandble, which is essential in a film of this type. The only drawback is the lack of more complexity through the soundfield, which might have been present on a 5.1-channel format. This is not a major surprise due to the smaller scale of this production, but it still would have been a worthwhile inclusion.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Whit Stillman with actors Chris Eigeman and Taylor Nichols
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Barcelona features an entertaining commentary track from Whit Stillman, Chris Eigeman, and Taylor Nichols. The guys have worked together several times, and their nice rapport makes this extra more enjoyable. Eigeman actually lived at Nichols' apartment in real life, which corresponds effectively with their roles. Stillman leads the track and provides some interesting thoughts about his intentions for the film. All three speakers provide good insights and fun tidbits from this production. There are brief silent points, but fans will definitely find it worthwhile. I wouldn't rank it as a premier commentary, but it does move quickly and has a fun atmosphere due to their friendly relationship.

The other significant extra is a collection of four deleted scenes, which also may include comments from Stillman and the two actors. Running nearly three minutes, they appear in a severely rough format, with poor sound and a blurry picture. Several moments were deleted for pacing considerations, and another offered a closer look at the bombing aftermath. The alternate ending runs over four minutes, and it displays a significant divergence from the final cut. This version contains another terrorist shooting in front of the church, and it ends the story on a more serious note. Excising this subplot was an extremely wise move. The ending also offers the option of choosing commentary from the same trio.

Few supplements excite me less than the five-minute promotional EPKs from the studios, but this one does include more than the usual dullness. Quick interviews with Stillman, Nichols, and Eigeman provide the basic story and discuss a few major themes. This piece contains plenty of brief film clips, and is not fascinating, but at least it conveys a few items of interest.

This disc also provides a fairly detailed cast listing, but it only contains filmographies for Eigeman, Nichols, Sorvino, and Stillman. I would have enjoyed seeing information about Tushka Bergen and some of the other Spanish actors, but I guess they're too obscure for American audiences. Finally, we have the original theatrical trailer, which appears in a decent 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. Luckily, it retains the wittiness of the script and does not try to sell the film as a more conventional romantic comedy.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The jokes in Barcelona are often subtle and fly right over the heads of the audience. Whit Stillman's films are not for everyone, and the characters might become annoying to viewers looking for more accessible fare. However, I believe that his stories will surprise you when given time to develop. Fred and Ted both have some negative traits, but this fact makes them more intriguing because everything is not so easy for them. If more basic, mainstream comedies have been getting you down lately, this picture comes highly recommended.


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