Thursday, December 11, 2008

Goya's Ghosts

Goya’s Ghosts begins in a dark room where several clergymen are gathered around a large wooden table. A high ranking clergyman (Michael Lonsdale) shuffles through a stack of prints that have been placed before him which depict grotesquely disfigured characters. It seems as if the characters are mocking the Church and the Holy Inquisition. A discussion ensues around the table regarding the artist, who it is discovered, it held in high regard. The Church’s response to the prints becomes the topic of discussion. An up and coming clergyman (who himself has commissioned a portrait) defends the artist, Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgard) indicating that the appropriate response should be to reinstitute the “old ways” of the Inquisition to elicit confessions from heretics. This clergyman, Lorenzo (Javier Bardem) asks to provide leadership and instruction in identifying heretics, which he is granted.

While he is sitting for Goya, Lorenzo notices an unfinished painting of a beautiful young woman. He inquires about the young lady, Ines Bilbatua (Natalie Portman) in a passing conversation with Goya. A few days later, the young lady is arrested by the Inquisition under suspicion of practicing Jewish beliefs. The unfounded charges are based on the fact that Ines visited a tavern where pork was served and ate only chicken. Ines’ denials of practicing Judaism are put to “the question” which consists of being stripped naked, having your hands bound behind your back, and being lifted by your arms until a confession is tendered. Ines confesses leading to her imprisonment pending trial. Goya is asked to intercede on her behalf by her wealthy family. Goya invites Lorenzo to dinner with Ines’ family in order to broach the subject of her release. Lorenzo indicates that her confession can not be overturned because it would erode the credibility of the Inquisition. Lorenzo is tortured until he confesses that he is the prodigy of two primates. The confession is tendered to King Carlos IV (Randy Quaid) after Lorenzo fails to convince the church to release Ines.

Lorenzo becomes a fugitive, fleeing to France. When the movie jumps fifteen years, the French are on the verge of seizing Spain, leading to a major power shift. The relationships established early in the film come into play in various ways after the French succeed in bringing their regime to Spain. The power shift creates interesting dynamics which end up shifting yet again before the movie completes. There are some interesting ironies that arise from the imprisonment of Ines that are explored following the arrival of the French. The ruthlessness and greed of the French occupiers is short lived leading to further events, all of which seem to loosely tie around the life of Goya.

Goya’s Ghosts was written by Milos Forman (who also Directed) and Jean-Claude Carriere. The story appears to be mostly fiction, although there are strong factual elements throughout the plot. The characters are well developed with actions that avoid the formulaic writing of Hollywood. The interactions are sometimes intense, avoiding any temptation to strive for tidy happy endings. Because Goya was considered one of the last great Masters, whose work influenced modern artists, it placed him half in one era and half in another. The political events of his era saw remaining influences from the Inquisition combined with the French Revolution and the ushering in of a new era. This creates an exceptional background for a Period Piece that explores some of these issues, incorporating them into a gripping story. The dialogue was sharp adding depth to the characters and script. As a whole the writing was excellent.

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