Paint by num­bers

GOYA’S GHOSTS Di­rected by Mi­los For­man. Star­ring Javier Bar­dem, Natalie Port­man, Stel­lan Skars­gård, Randy Quaid, Michael Lons­dale 15A cert, gen re­lease, 114 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film reviews - DON­ALD CLARKE

HEY ev­ery­body, it’s Monty Python’s Life of Goya. The latest film from Mi­los For­man be­gins re­spectably with mem­bers of the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion glumly de­bat­ing the ac­cept­abil­ity of the great painter’s more dis­turb­ing sketches. Fea­tur­ing rich, choco­laty cin­e­matog­ra­phy and a sin­is­ter per­for­mance from Javier Bar­dem as an oily cleric, the scene prom­ises an en­ter­tain­ment that will si­mul­ta­ne­ously ad­dress the in­tel­lec­tual para­doxes of Goya’s imag­i­na­tion and revel in his taste for darker hues. This is not how it works out. Alarm bells start ring­ing when we first see the painter him­self. Stel­lan Skars­gård is, you will agree, one of the most watch­able of con­tem­po­rary char­ac­ter ac­tors. But how­ever much shaggy hair you stick on his head and what­ever al­ter­ations you make to his ac­cent, he re­mains stub­bornly, ir­re­sistibly Swedish. Short of draft­ing in Jackie Chan or Chow Yun Fat to play the role, it is hard to imag­ine a less con­vinc­ing Spa­niard.

Natalie Port­man, who plays Inés, Goya’s beau­ti­ful muse, fares some­what bet­ter in the first act, be­fore go­ing on to en­counter in­dig­ni­ties no ac­tor could con­ceiv­ably de­serve. Seen re­fus­ing pork in a avern, Inés is ar­rested for in­dulging in Ju­daic rit­u­als and, fol­low­ing grue­some tor­ture, is flung into a grimy dun­geon. Brother Bar­dem, clearly a cad of spec­tac­u­lar pro­por­tions, then forces his aw­ful in­ten­tions on her.

All this is turgid enough, but the in­ten­tional com­edy re­ally gets go­ing when, af­ter a jar­ring flash-for­ward, we find our­selves pro­pelled into the Napoleonic oc­cu­pa­tion. Inés, now wear­ing the same makeup Terry Jones used for his agrar­ian im­be­ciles in Python, stag­gers out of the prison and into the arms of Goya, who agrees to help her find the daugh­ter she had while con­fined.

And there she is. Yep, it’s Port­man, all cleaned up, but sport­ing the sort of teeth more of­ten seen on a sea­side don­key. They can’t be se­ri­ous.

Even if the cast­ing and the make-up weren’t so hi­lar­i­ous, Goya’s Ghosts would still suf­fer from a fa­tal lack of fo­cus. Whose story is it? Goya’s? Inés’s? The evil cleric’s?

Sorry for all the ques­tions, Mi­los. You, surely, did not ex­pect an in­qui­si­tion.

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