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Forman's "Ghosts"

Posted at 5:34 AM on August 3, 2007 by Euan Kerr

If you got to Milos Forman's "Goya's Ghosts" expecting a biopic for the great Spanish painter, you will be disappointed.

That's not to say the film is disappointing - far from it.

But this is more of a portrait of a troubled era in Spanish history, which Goya captured both in his paintings and prints. It was a time of religious conservatism and brewing revolution, and the two forces crash together in Forman's film. And as Forman makes clear, it is the ordinary people who summer as the 'great and the good' wrestle for power.

The central character is really Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem), a member of the Spanish Inquisition. Lorenzo defends Goya's satirical depictions of the Church, telling his colleagues they may be truer to life than they think. He believes the Church must impose it's doctrine much more rigorously and begins a spy campaign to try to expose heretics.

His spies pick up Ines (Natalie Portman) the daughter of a merchant and a sometime model for Goya (Stellan Skarsgard.)

When the merchant's father asks Goya to intercede with Lorenzo it sets off a series of events which take us through a decade and a half of the rise and fall of the Inquistition, the French Revolution, and Napoleon's invasion of Spain. It's seldom a happy tale.

Forman tells a story of the dangers of religious and political extremism, and the corruption of power, showing the larger horrors through the story of Ines. Even as the film ends it's clear the misery will continue.

Bardem is excellent in the Lorenzo role, and Skarsgard handles the bombastic and increasingly deaf Goya role with great aplomb. Portman does very well with the early part of the film, but is less convincing towards the end as her character begins to crumble under years of abuse.

This is a beautifully made film, with the costumed splendor similar to "Amadeus" and "Valmont." And, as with those other films, Forman delivers an important message wrapped in the silks and brocade.

August 2007
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