Community Relations Manager
KUNV 91.5 FM
University of Nevada Las Vegas
I usually love films that challenge my beliefs, and make it hard to decide
on who is the protagonist; Goya’s Ghosts does just that, and also brought up
some very interesting questions regarding religion, war, and the purpose of
art. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help thinking throughout the whole film that
something was missing, and despite a few good performances, most of the
characters seemed vacant and dull.
It is 1792, and Francisco Goya’s (Stellan Skarsgard) paintings and etchings
have been challenged by the Catholic Church’s inquisition. Goya is official
painter to King Carlos IV (Randy Quaid) and Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem),
a corrupt man who appreciates Goya’s work, convinces the head of the church
that the grotesque images can help instill the fear of God to those who buy
Brother Lorenzo pays Goya to paint his
portrait, and the two of them strike up an odd friendship, they joke with
each other, but there is always tension in the air – especially when Lorenzo
asks about one of his models. Inez Bilbatua (Natalie Portman) is the young
daughter of a wealthy merchant, and she is often the subject of Goya’s work.
In fact, Lorenzo recognizes her instantly as an angel painted on the ceiling
of the church.
After Lorenzo finds out who she is, Inez is summoned by the Inquisition
because she was witnessed refusing to eat pork one night when she was at the
tavern with her brothers. The church’s spies turn her in because her refusal
to eat pork obviously means that she is practicing Judaism. She tells her
questioner, Brother Lorenzo, that she does not and has never practiced
Judaism. He tortures her until she is forced to sign a confession and she is
put in jail.
Because Goya is a friend of her family,
and of Brother Lorenzo, he introduces Inez’s father to Lorenzo so that they
can find out what happened to the girl. Inez’s father becomes enraged when
he finds out that his daughter was tortured into confession, so to show
Lorenzo that torture will make even those with the strongest faith confess,
he puts Lorenzo to the same torture his daughter faced and forces him to
confess and sign to being the bastard son of a monkey.
Cut to 15 years later, in the height of the French Revolution and France’s
invasion of Spain: Inez is still in prison, Goya has gone deaf and is at the
height of his career, and Brother Lorenzo is hiding in France after he was
expelled from the church. When Inez is released, she goes to Goya for help
and he finds out what really happened when she was put in jail.
I really enjoyed the storyline of this
film, no matter how shocking and heart wrenching it became. While the story
of Goya’s life was inconsequential and inaccurate, I thought that the
stories of Inez and Brother Lorenzo were very well written and interesting
inspired historical fiction. Goya acts not as a main character so much, but
as a catalyst for a series of events that spiral out of his control. He is
always neutral, clueless and non-threatening, an interesting compliment to
Inez and Lorenzo who represent the good and evil ends of the film’s moral
While I really liked the storyline and the ideas that it explored about the
role of art when it comes to war and religion, I thought that it was choppy
and poorly directed (by Milos Forman). In the beginning, there were a lot of
unnecessary scenes and extra storylines that were distracting and muddled
the plot. It didn’t help that many of the characters were completely
expressionless and had no real relatable characteristics at all, especially
Goya. Portman and Bardem were the only stand-out actors in the whole film,
and Bardem in particular did a fabulous job of making me question whether or
not he was really all that evil, and it forced me to pity him even though
the audience is supposed to hate him.
The richness of Goya’s paintings and
the stories of Inez and Lorenzo really saved this film from being completely
unbearable and contrived. Still, the choppy beginning and bland acting from
most of the cast could have made the film completely forgettable, but
Portman’s haunting performance and Bardem’s moral dilemma made it more
complex. This film is not for those who appreciate accurate historical
films, but again, it was an interesting interpretation of Goya’s work, the
French Revolution and the Spanish Inquisition.