Goya's Ghosts is a 2006 Spanish film directed by Milos Forman, and produced by Xuxa Producciones (Spain) and by Saul Zaentz, and written by Milos Forman and Jean-Claude Carriere. Goya's Ghosts is a sweeping historical epic, … see full wiki
In its overall theme(s) Goya’s Ghost is timely and timeless.
The Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834), that vile religious based period of human history in which “The Question” (torture) was asked of many, yet the truth sought of none, is the backdrop for Goya’s Ghosts (2006), a period piece staring Natalie Portman and Javier Bardem. Period piece it may be, but it is also timely in its universal message that torture is a worthless bit of human tomfoolery that inflicts pain upon the human body and soul in an idiotic attempt to extract information that might otherwise be taken to the grave. And that the lack of due process leads to the destruction innocent life and a perversion of power.
Though flawed, like most films, Goya’s Ghosts is nonetheless a haunting movie and marks yet another fine performance—perhaps her finest to date—by Ms. Portman.
Written and Directed by Milos Forman (Ragtime, The People vs. Larry Flint), Goya’s Ghosts opens on 1792 in Madrid during the closing moments of the aforementioned Spanish Inquisition when the Catholic Church is drinking the last milk of power on the European continent, it just doesn’t know it yet. The movie opens as the (unfaithful) heads of the Catholic Church gather in Madrid to contemplate the works of renowned Spanish painter and engraver Francisco Goya (1746-1828), portrayed by Stellan Skarsgard (Dogville, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’ Chest, Entourage) and the effects some of his rather ghoulish works depicting them, is having on their image abroad. For reasons that are not quite clear they decide to bring back “the question” in an effort to improve(?) said image.
The lovely Ms. Portman (Garden State, V for Vendetta, The Other Boleyn Girl) portrays Ines (and later Alicia), a 15-year-old girl whose portrait has just been painted by Goya. She is the daughter of a wealthy merchantman Tomas Bilbatua (Jose Luis Gomez). For no discernable reason she is called before the Church and verbally questioned about pork of all things, before having “the question” asked of her, at which time she confesses to being a practicing Jewess, a crime during that period, and locked away for the next 15 years.
In an effort to free her, her father invites Father Lorenzo (Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men) to dinner with Goya to both bribe him (chest full of gold) and put “the question” to him is an effort to prove to the Church and Crown that the method is worthless for extracting the truth, thereby winning the release of Ines. Right when it looks as though he may succeed, the French Revolution happens and all of Europe is thrown into turmoil. Ines is forgotten by Church and State…And oh yes, Lorenzo visits Ines on several occasions and rapes her, thereby siring a daughter named Alicia.
As I stated above Goya’s Ghosts is a haunting film, not so much for its message, but for its method of delivery. The Catholic Church has been a corrupt institution since its inception (not just my opinion, history bears this out), made even more so in Europe after the final fall of the Roman Empire because of it claim to the ear and will of God, and the populace’s Pavlovian devotion to its teachings. Even Kings and Queens did not question the Catholic Church and keep crown for long. But I digress…
Goya’s Ghost is a somewhat disjoined film in that like most period pieces the movie begins assuming that the views knows when and where the movie is taking place. Some narrative to set up the opening frames would have been nice, along with a short explanation of The Spanish Inquisition and its importance to both Spanish and European history.
Be that as it may, Ms Portman turned in a stunning performance first as Ines, the 15-year-old girl who is tortured, repeatedly raped, savagely aged almost beyond recognition, than as her own daughter some 15 years later. Portman pulled each off role with aplomb. Portman is that rare combination of perpetual innocence and beauty that never fails to light up the screen. Bardem also turns is a laudable performance as a sadistic pedophile (sound familiar?) and later renegade priest who flees to France only to return to Spain with power, prestige, and a family, having drank to wine of the French Revolution. And Skarsgard is passionate in his portrayal of Goya.
Co-writer /director Milos Forman serves up a visually poignant tableau; torture, a prison filled with broken bloodied, innocent humans, Goya's deafness, a filthy madhouse, a corrupt Catholic Church, prostitutes, a vicious war, splendid art, and even Randy Quaid (it took a while to recognize him, but…) portraying Spain’s King Carlos IV on violin.
What Forman failed to deliver is drama of easy coherence or credibility, but one that still manages to entertain and linger in the mind long after the last credits scroll off the screen. This is due in large part to Portman’s performance, but also the timely subject matter, and the way it is delivered. Once again humanity—European humanity anyway—is at stake. Goya’s paintings and black and white drawings from the period made prophet, but simple art of the dreadful and absurd times in culturally dysfunctional Spain and congers up that old maxim: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it! One could argue that Bush’s unilateral declaration of this person or that as an enemy combatant without benefit of due process is tantamount to an inquisition. In its overall theme(s) Goya’s Ghost is timely and timeless.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
What did you think of this review?