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
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.