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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Milos Forman|
scr Milos Forman, Jean-Claude Carričre
with Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Randy Quaid, Blanca Portillo, Michael Lonsdale, José Luis Gómez, Mabel Rivera, Fernando Tielve, Unax Ugalde, Julian Wadham, Craig Stevenson
release Sp 8.Nov.06, UK 4.May.07, US 20.Jul.07
Inner demons: Bardem
With a cast, writers and director this skilled, and a thoroughly ambitious approach to an unusual life story, you'd think this film would at least be intriguing. Sadly, it never quite comes together.
Francisco Goya (Skarsgard) is the painter to the king (Quaid) in 1792 Spain, but he also has a secret life as a journalistic sketch artist, documenting the atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition. The chief inquisitor (Lonsdale) is not happy about this, and sends his ruthless right-hand priest Lorenzo (Bardem) to investigate. But Lorenzo is distracted by Goya's young friend Ines (Portman), who's accused of heresy, tortured and imprisoned. Perhaps by posing as her saviour, Lorenzo can get whatever he wants out of the situation.
The central story is certainly fascinating, as it examines issues of faith and politics and where the two meet. But the filmmakers seem unsure what to do with it, spiralling out into overwrought melodrama and an extended narrative that awkwardly shifts gears as the decades pass. It feels more like a series of disconnected plots, rather than one over-arching storyline, especially as it moves from gritty thriller to camp silliness, encompassing the French Revolution, Napoleon's invasion and the subsequent British liberation.
The cast is rather too eclectic for its own good. These are superior actors, but thrown together like this they all stick out like sore thumbs. The only genuinely Spanish star, Bardem bravely explores Lorenzo's inner cruelty and bravado. While Portman shines in the early sections, before bad make-up and hair take their toll. Altogether, the odd mixture of accents makes the film feel somewhat turgid and ponderous. And also more than a little barmy.
We can see what the filmmakers are going for: an examination of the corrupting influence of power, as whoever's in charge commits horrific crimes against humanity, which are all documented by Goya. This clearly parallels the political situation in the world today, with campaigns against smut and arguments in favour of torture. Some of this is extremely resonant, such as when the priests look at Goya's sketches and sigh that "this is how the world is seeing us". And the film is impeccably shot and edited. But it's also a mess.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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