If you’re allergic to lackluster Lust for Life–ish biopics about painters, relax: Milos Forman’s new period piece isn’t interested in being the billionth portrait of an artist. There’s no mention of the subject’s childhood, tenure in Rome or marriage; when we first meet Francisco Goya (Skarsgård), he’s already bridging the worlds of classical and modern art. Instead, the filmmaker casts the figure as a passive observer to political oppression in 18th-century Spain. Specifically, the era that saw monks like Brother Lorenzo (Bardem) revive the Spanish Inquisition’s tactics and innocents like Inés (Portman) get thrown into prison for disliking pork. Forman suffered through Czechoslovakia’s occupation by the Soviets, but his sights are set on right now: The euphemisms used to make torture acceptable and an army commander’s insistence that troops will be greeted as liberators suggest that our current moral free fall is just history repeating itself.
All of which makes Goya’s Ghosts seem vital, until melodramatic elements turn into exponential silliness and sink the whole shebang. Do we need countless inserts of someone telling a deafened Goya what we’ve just heard? Did the costume department really think that ludicrous false teeth were the only way we’d tell the second of Portman’s two characters apart? When did eye-rolling become officially sanctioned as acceptable emoting?
Cast and crew
José Luis Gómez