Vicky Cristina Barcelona 

Reviewer's grade: B+

Woody Allen fans can breathe easy. Not only is "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" a return to form for the writer-director, it might just be his best movie since 1994's "Bullets Over Broadway." Bathed in the golden-hued splendor of the titular Spanish city, the film tackles themes near and dear to the Woodman's heart, particularly the dichotomy between the need for stable relationships and the desire for a life of passion.

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is pragmatic, sensible and engaged to be married. Her best friend, Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), is impulsive and adventurous. When the pair of American tourists in Spain meets up with a seductive painter (Javier Bardem), the women must come to grips with their contradictory views of love and sex -- and that's before the arrival of the painter's tempestuous, beautiful ex-wife.

The picture is a modern-day fable punctuated by smart dialogue, gorgeous scenery (both human and inanimate) and a storyline charmingly divorced from the real world. PG-13

"?Phil Bacharach

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