Last night we watched Goya’s Ghosts, a film directed by Miloš Forman and starring Natalie Portman, Javier Bardeem and Stellan Skarsgård. Nominally centered on the life of Francisco de Goya (have I mentioned how much I like his work and that he could be a distant “cousin” of mine?), it is really more a commentary on Spain in the late 1700s/early 1800s. Goya’s life isn’t really delved into very much, rather the political/social circumstances than inspired much of his work is the main story. Which is good, as that is the only historically accurate part of the story: the French invasion of Spain and the subsequent repulsion of the French by the British. The more personal story, involving Bardeem’s Father Lorenzo, Portman’s Ines, and Skarsgård’s Goya, seems to be based on a collection of events that happened to multiple people (according to an interview of Forman that I had seen online). The personal story is interesting, but, as always, I get frustrated that it is impossible to know what is based on historical fact and what is artistic license. It would be nice if, on the DVD extras, they went into that.
Overall, the movie was very good. I enjoyed it. It is a bit dark, but anyone familiar with Goya’s work should expect nothing less. As a consequence, it is not a very uplifting story. Bardeem’s character, in particular, is an opportunist. His life as a monk in the Catholic Church is destroyed, but he makes himself an even more powerful life afterwards.
I guess that Forman meant to use the movie to comment on current events, especially on the use of torture. There is one scene in which Lorenzo is confronted about the Church’s use of certain “questioning” techniques which is both very powerful and very insightful about the effectiveness of torture. The way that Ines’ father proves his point about how the validity of confessions obtained via torture is very direct and very satisfying on one level, though disturbing on another.
I don’t think this movie will be for everyone. I liked it because of the snapshot of Spanish life during the time that it represents. I also like that Goya, while not the main character, is still featured, and so is his art. I just wish that a good story like this could have been told with a bit more historical veracity.