Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Goya's Ghosts

The Spanish painter Francisco Goya, 1746 to 1828, is considered by many to be the most important Spanish artist of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Though he painted the usual dignitaries with a master's hand, his portfolio also includes some of the most hideous and disturbing images you will see anywhere. It makes for a strange combination when you are a young art history student, or gallery walker.

The 2006 film Goya's Ghosts directed by Milos Forman becomes a vehicle for illuminating the context of Goya's life, thereby lifting the curtain so that we see how these two styles and seemingly discordant subject themes could exist in the same man. Stellan Skarsgard plays Goya, an artist who paints royalty and simultaneously makes pamphlets undermining Papal authority. The Spanish Inquisition is still in full swing. The French Revolution is being played out to the North, followed by Napoleon and his megalomania.

It is only against this backdrop that we are able to comprehend Goya's work. The famous painting The Third of May of a man in front of a firing squad, arms outstretched like the crucified one, was produced by an eyewitness to horror in the era before cameras.

Javier Bardem (Lorenzo) and Natalie Portman (Inez) also star in this film. Bardem is a despicable and devious character serving on behalf of the Inquisitors, till later he maneuvers for a better position with the next regime. He is a warm, friendly evil person -- the scariest kind. And whenever he is on the screen, he "steals the scene" as they say. I find him to be a powerful and versatile actor whose work never ceases to impress me.

I commend Portman for a most challenging role. Her willingness to be disfigured is commendable. During her imprisonment I couldn't help but hear echoes of her role in V for Vendetta which I again watched recently. Later in the film she also plays her own daughter, a spirited young woman in an undignified profession... but a survivor.

In my opinion the film had two shortcomings. First, Skarsgard seemed just too cheerful for me as Goya. Maybe the director and screenwriter know more about Goya than I, but this fellow did not strike me as having the artist temperament. And maybe the real Goya didn't. Yet his paintings carried such pathos and troubling images that one has difficulty picture a cheerful man wielding those brushes. Second, the scope of the film becomes a burden. From the Inquisition to Napoleon's invasion... yes, we now see Goya's life and work explained. But does this a great film make? I dunno.

I did enjoy Goya's Ghosts, and despite its shortcomings I commend the effort. Perhaps we'll see a new interest taken in this Spanish master's work as a result.


M. Denise C. said...

Thanks for the review, Ed. I will have to put this one in my Netflix queue!

ENNYMAN said...

Let us know what you think after you see it.
Thanks for the visit....

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Very interesting. I'll check it out.