Barcelona: Criterion Collection
May 18, 2016
After the warm reception and modest box office hit of Metropolitan (1990), writer/director Whit Stillman followed it up four years later with Barcelona (1994), which focused on the misadventures of two Americans in Barcelona, Spain.
Chicago salesman Ted Boynton (Nichols) lives and works in the eponymous Spanish city in the early 1980s. His life is disrupted when his cousin Fred (Eigeman), a naval officer, shows up unexpectedly at his front door. Right from the get-go, Stillman’s trademark witty banter kicks in as Ted and Fred go to a local bar and talk about the attractiveness of local women. Their conversation continues as they drive through the city streets with intermittent breaks where Fred and Ted discuss the country’s political climate, which is strongly anti-American.
Much as he did with the streets of New York City in Metropolitan, Stillman uses the stunning architecture of Barcelona to create a sense of place. We are instantly transported to this exotic locale and it acts as an excellent backdrop to Fred and Ted’s antics.
The film is narrated by Ted and is ultimately about the ups and downs of his love life. Taylor Nichols plays him as a slightly less tightly-wound version of the character he played in Metropolitan. He’s a sincere and straightforward character trying to make an honest living. There’s a refreshing earnestness to Ted mixed with a dash of naiveté when it comes to romance that the actor does an excellent job conveying.
Chris Eigeman has always been the actor most adept at spouting Stillman’s stylized dialogue and he is fine form as Ted’s ne’er-do-well cousin. Much of the fun in watching Barcelona is the amusing verbal sparring between Fred and Ted with Eigeman proving to be the master of the intellectual put-down. While Fred gets some of the film’s most memorable lines, one gets the feeling that Stillman sympathizes more with Ted and sees the former as a source of comedy and the latter as more genuine.
Spain’s open hostility to Americans gives Barcelona a more sobering, serious side than anything in Metropolitan and showed Stillman’s progression as a filmmaker. This film shows how Americans are viewed in other countries and how they react to cultures they aren’t familiar with as well as themes that are still relevant today. Of course, this is all filtered through Stillman’s distinctive point-of-view.
The Blu-Ray transfer does a really nice job of preserving the filmic qualities of Barcelona. The film looks as good as it ever has.
The 2002 Warner Bros. DVD audio commentary by Stillman and actors Eigeman and Nichols has been included. The three men discuss the making of the film, sharing plenty of anecdotes while also eloquently examining its themes in a way that is entertaining and engaging.
There is a new 20-minute video essay by film critic Farran Smith Nehme that connects Stillman’s first three films together as a loose-knit trilogy by showing similar themes and the reappearance of certain characters in multiple features.
“The Making of Barcelona” is a 1994 making of featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and soundbite interviews with Stillman and his cast.
Also included are four deleted scenes and an alternate ending with optional commentary by Stillman, Eigeman and Nichols.
There’s an amusing excerpt from a 1994 episode of the Today television show with Katie Couric interviewing Stillman about Barcelona and the challenges of shooting it in Spain.
A real treat for fans is Stillman’s 1994 appearance on The Charlie Rose Show where he talks about his film and also the success of Metropolitan.
There is also a trailer.