Director brings Barcelona to bigscreen

“WOODY ALLEN is all over Barcelona,” we learned last week at dinner in Mallorca with friends who had just arrived from the Spanish city.

They had seen him at the Arts Hotel, an architecturally striking waterfront hostelry so posh and heavily staffed that beautifully groomed young ladies circulate through the lobby offering you drinks even if you’re just pausing before heading out.

The Woodman had finally started shooting his long-planned Spanish-set feature — a romantic comedy purportedly titled “Midnight in Barcelona” — in July after a considerable postponement and recent local controversy over the financial contribution by the city and Catalonia of $1.3 million, considered an exorbitant sum by those who feel such amounts should go to native filmmakers rather than established foreign helmers.

FOR HIS SELF-ADVERTISED love letter to the city, Woody evidently surveyed many of its most decorous neighborhoods and artistic sights as potential locations. But early on, shooting had created considerable inconvenience on the celebrated La Rambla promenade and the producers had trouble securing permission to film at the street’s legendary produce market La Boqueria, as the demands of a film production promised to be too disruptive to the frenzied sale of every manner of edible produce known to humankind that is always taking place there.

“You’re bound to run into him,” our friends concluded. “He’s everywhere.”

Still, Woody Allen, as well as his film’s stars, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz, never even entered my mind once we arrived in the massively photogenic city last weekend. So I scarcely anticipated the sight that awaited us as, accompanied by the tolling of the sonorous bells of the city’s central Gothic cathedral, we opened the shutters of our room at the Hotel Colon on Monday morning to behold beneath us eight large trucks in the middle of the cathedral square that were unmistakably of the sort used in film production.

It didn’t take a moment to deduce that our friends’ confident prediction of a Woody sighting was about to come true. There was no resisting it. My wife, who shares the filmmaker’s Dec. 1 birthday, and daughter headed out first and returned to report that Woody and the crew were working down a little side street along the edge of the cathedral.

My son and I soon followed suit, easily locating the director, sporting his trademark frumpy fisherman’s hat, rumpled clothes and chest-caving slump, confering with a man bearing a pronounced resemblance to Harvey Weinstein. The small group of gawkers, my son and I included, was restrained from getting too close by tough Spanish guards and portable metal fences, and was quickly pressed back up against a wall when Johansson suddenly appeared and bounded purposefully past us to report for work. At this point the barrier, and the growing throng of tourists, was pushed much further down the street, making continued voyeuristic surveillance of the scene impossible; when I approached a young and obviously American production factotum and politely asked if he would pass a note to someone I knew inside, I was greeted with the sort of dismissive I’m-so-busy-and-important-why-do-you-dare-even-speak-to-me attitude that has unfortunately always afflicted certain levels of the film business.

WHILE WE HUNG AROUND, my nine-year-old son, whose taste in comics includes the greats and near-greats — Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges — began asking me who Woody Allen is and why he hadn’t seen any of his films. Well, you have, I said, remembering our one dismal attempt a couple of years back to introduce the kids to Allen with “Sleeper,” only to discover in it such unremembered highlights as the Orgasmatron and other sexual interludes that provoked more questions than we felt like answering during a movie screening, and that taught us all that what was PG in 1973 is now more like PG-13 or R.

While we couldn’t get anywhere near enough to Woody, Harvey or anyone else to catch their attention, we did strike up a conversation with a nice older Spanish woman whose companion was a strikingly unidentifiable type of black-and-white terrier. She told us that Woody Allen had noticed the dog and decided he wanted to use it in the film, and would she wait until 2:30 so it could make its movie debut? With nothing special to do, she agreed.

When we prepared to leave the next morning, the trucks were still in the plaza, and extra effort had clearly been expended to protect from view the central makeup and wardrobe vans where Johansson, Cruz and the other stars spent much of their time. From our fourth-floor window, however, we had an unobstructed view of all of them in their various states of readiness.

I’ll look forward to seeing them all — and to how Allen depicts this seldom-seen city onscreen — when the film comes out in a year. But I’ll be paying particular attention to whether or not the dog makes the cut.

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