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Goya’s Ghosts

This prompts her wealthy father Tomas Bilbatua (Jose Luis Gomez) to invite Brother Lorenzo to their home where Tomas puts the Brother to The Question. The question in this case being wouldnt anyone confess to anything under torture? Thats one of the films central pointswith distinct reference to whats going on now with Bush's policies. Foreman's film proposes that when tortured, people are likely to confess to anything. And peripheral to that notion are themes involving the dangers of unlimited power and the hypocrisy of those who wield that power.

Natalie Portman and Javier Bardem in Goya's Ghosts (Samuel Goldwyn)

It is around this time that Goyas Ghosts starts to run into plausibility problems. Lorenzos relationship with Ines and his subsequent encounter with her father both strain credibility, and the entire film hinges on these events. Meanwhile Goya remains on the periphery, observing history and the fates of both his muse and the powerful man of the church whose life takes an unlikely turn. Foreman ties up the fates of these characters with history to suggest that cycles of violence, cruelty and abuse of power have been going on for a long time.

Foremans other period portrait of an artist, Amadeus , had Peter Schaffers carefully crafted play as its solid foundation. But for Goyas Ghosts, Foreman works off an uneven script by Luis Bunuels usually highly skilled scenarist Jean-Claude Carrire . Bunuel and Carrire had a creative collaboration in which each seemed to prompt the other to be better or at the very least they complemented each other in a way that they seemed at their best in collaboration. But Foreman and Carrire dont click creatively in the same way. The result is a disjointed and sometime awkward drama but one that proves persistently intriguing. The film stumbles but at least it stumbles over some big ideas and interesting historical figures.

The early scenes of Goya painting and creating etchings provide a fascinating glimpse into the artistic process and the pragmatic side of creating a work of art. As he did in Amadeus, Foreman addresses the business side of the art as well. In one scene, Goya asks Lorenzo if he wants his hands in the painting. Lorenzo thinks this is an artistic decision but Goya says nohands are difficult to paint and so it costs extra. The film might have fared better if it stayed closer to Goya and further away from the melodrama of Lorenzo and Ines. A few shots of Goyas paintings of war convey a perspective that proves more powerful than the film itself, and it would be great to understand how Goya created such art. Its also interesting to see how Goya could be so perceptive in some regards (as in capturing the pain of the Spanish people in war) and so oblivious to other things. When he paints the plain Spanish Queen, for example, he completely miscalculates how she wants to be remembered by history.

Javier Bardem as Brother Lorenzo in Goya's Ghosts (Samuel Goldwyn)

When the film is with Goya, it works best. But whenever Foreman decides to make a point, the films flaws become evident. We feel the material and the characters being manipulated. Lorenzo especially seems to be in service of the plot and the films ideas. He unbelievably transforms from a subtle henchman for the Church to a man of enlightenment fighting with the invading French army. But either way he proves cruel and hypocritical with only occasional moments of self-doubt. He along with the Inquisitor General represent how fortunes can change for the powerful, making them predators at one moment and victims the next.

Because the film is flawed, the problems of a multi-national cast become more apparent. There is a diverse mix of accents with Bardem in particular seeming uncomfortable with either the English or the lines hes been given. In addition Bardem seems physically restrained and hemmed in as hes forced to speak in hushed tones and maintain a hunched stance. Bardem is an actor who has frequently used his physicality to excellent effect but here Foreman forces Bardem to almost retreat into a smaller performance. Bardem also faces the greatest challenges because his character is forced to go through extreme changes that arent always credible.

Portman and Skarsgard, however, fare better. Portman, although burdened with some excessive make up effects once she emerges from prison, captures the emotional changes of her character well. But she has done this role before with vastly different results in V for Vendetta . Skarsgard, despite his Swedish background, does well as the famous Spanish painter. He has something approaching arrogance as he pursues his art, observing and chronicling what he sees yet remaining somehow detached from it. He conveys an artists obsessiveness and dedication to his craft. Because of the strength of his performance and the inherent interest in Goya, it would have been nice to get a little more insight into this character.

Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe finds a compelling visual style although he never finds a cinematic equivalent for Goya's stunning depictions of the brutality that ravaged his country. Aguirresarobe is aided by production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein and costumer Yvonne Blake who provide solid period detail.

Goyas Ghosts (rated R for violence, disturbing images, some sexual content and nudity) has ambitious goals that it never fully attains. It proves intermittently fascinating but ultimately disappointing.

Companion viewing: Amadeus , Vincent and Theo , New York Stories (segment with Nick Nolte as a painter), Danton , V for Vendetta -----

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