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Arts and Entertainment

Movie Review: Goya's Ghosts

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Since it is the last Harry Potter weekend, allow me to open with a relevant quote from the late (or is he?) Albus Dumbledore, "I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being--forgive me--rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger." This sentiment applies very well to Milos Forman and his new movie, Goya's Ghosts. In his long career, Forman has directed numerous superb films, deservedly winning Oscars for both Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Goya's Ghosts, however, is a true misstep.

One would imagine that a film entitled Goya's Ghosts would explore the life of the great Spanish painter and printmaker. To a small extent that's true, but most of the narrative is spent examining the late years of theSpanish Inquisition. Goya himself functions merely as a witness or lens through which we see both it and its victims. Natalie Portman portrays one of those victims, a young woman named Ines who is a model for Goya. She is convicted of a trivial offense by the Inquisition and spends fifteen years festering in prison.

While in prison she is tortured by the priests and later raped by one Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem). Lorenzo, in turn, is tortured into signing a false, heretical confession by Ines' family and flees Spain with nothing but his life. He returns fifteen years later as an administrator for Napoleon, having traded the life of a monk for that of a married bureaucrat. If all of this is sounding rather confusing and scattered, I sympathize with you. That's how I felt watching it. Goya's Ghost certainly has an epic scope, but that scope seems almost pointlessly epic.

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At no time do we ever get enough insight into any of the characters to really care about their ultimate outcomes. Lorenzo goes from taciturn monk to extravagant Rationalist in the space of a title card; Ines is a bright and luminous girl who loses her mind and her beauty--again--in the space of a title card. The title card in question is centered right in the middle of the movie--"fifteen years later". It's so jarring that it sabotages the admittedly slight momentum that the film had going prior to its appearance.

Most of the blame for all this, unfortunately, must fall to Forman. The film is directed with far too casual a hand. Portman is mis-cast as Ines (and later--get ready--as her identical twin daughter!) and Stellan Skarsgard is a turgid Goya. Both actors gain and lose Spanish accents throughout the film. Bardem, as always, is interesting to watch but you never really believe the actions of his character so he never registers that strongly. Ultimately, Goya's Ghosts has to count as an amibitious but huge mistake for Forman.

Photo courtesy of the Saul Zaentz Company