GOYA’S GHOSTS. Natalie Portman in a difficult double role

What truth do you want?


20 July 2023

There is a special kind of movies. Yes. Some call them masterpieces in the first impulse, only to drink coffee in tall glasses and melt in soft armchairs while discussing a great name and a great film. Others are waiting for the film to mature. Like a fruit that after a few weeks, months and even years breaks with pleasure, but also in anticipation of their sweet, timeless flesh. I do not know? I guess I’ll wait. I trust Forman it’s worth it. So far – impressions after one day.

Ines Bilbatua as the beautiful, angelic muse of Francisco Goya and the devilishly talented Natalie Portman playing her as Milos Forman’s new muse. There was no role more difficult in this film: because not only is it a double one (Natalie is also Ines and her daughter Alicia) but also subordinated to the heroine’s extreme transformations. 15 years of imprisonment in the dungeons of the Holy Office degrades Ines’ beauty and mental health to a nightmare level. From the underground corridors of the Inquisition’s headquarters comes a horribly devastated by disease and hunger, a staggering, mad creature (in contrast: 15 years earlier “a young, beautiful witch, smelling of jasmine”). One of the many victims of the absurd allegations of the St. Inquisition, but also an individual victim of the desires of Father Lorenzo (Javier Bardem), to whom he gives birth to a daughter in the prison dungeon. The best of Portman’s roles and the first of Goya’s Ghosts, who leaves all innocence and beauty in his portrait.

Francisco Goya was the court painter of the King of Spain in the late 18th century. Although very talented, he has nothing of the crazy, exuberant figure of a genius a’ la Amadeus. Very similar in physiognomy to a painter, Stellan Skarsgård plays some too “normal”, quite well-mannered artist who makes a living by portraying the wealthier inhabitants of Madrid. But at the same time, he plays someone extraordinary, who can bring out on the canvas the whole truth about the portrayed model, the individual aura, the essence, the essence of a human being. Because it’s actually a movie about the truth. The one understood in huge, ridiculous quotation marks, worshiped and extracted from heretics during the “interrogations” of the Holy Office, and the one that can be called in Formanian terms – the Spirit! This play of the script between the two visions of truth is best reflected in the excellent performance of the above-mentioned Javier Bardem, first as a friar, Father Lorenzo, and later as the main leader of the revolution in Spain. From the very first scenes of the film, you record the facial expressions of an experienced actor. You look intently at the figure of a medieval monk: the more ridiculous, the more terrifying. “Horror! Horror!” Kurtz from Heart of Darkness would have called. This is the second Goya’s Ghost, which leaves its “darkness” on the portrait.

The music of the film started for me already during the opening credits (strong snare drums suddenly revitalized tired viewers), but as soon as it appeared – it fell silent. Just as she was silent later for the deaf Francisco Goya. The “big names” of cinema often tell their stories thanks to the dense currents of music. Milos Forman renounces it almost completely. From the thicket of images, only the symbolic sound of the inquisition bells stands out, the final song humming by a group of children and maybe also … the sonorous voice of young Ines. From sequence to sequence, the film becomes more and more painterly, subordinated to Goya’s graphics thickening on the screen. The plot is trivialized at times, and its amounts are not very neatly reduced, but it is told through the imagination of a brilliant painter. Images try to replace the function of music. With great, unexpected success. When the action gains momentum (Napoleon’s army enters Spain), instead of dynamic sounds, there is a rush of accelerating sequences of brutal engravings and paintings by Francisco, those describing the revolution in the streets of Madrid. Nightmare of the soul of an 18th-century painter, beautifully doubling pictures and soundtrack.

What truth do you want? This is a desperate question from Ines, which calls into question the sense of the existence of a brutal instance of the Holy Office built on the absurdity of dogma. This is also the main motto of the film, and even – it seems to me – the director’s basic question addressed to the viewers. But Forman’s work does not provide clear answers. It will only multiply the questions and clues already emerging on the Multikino escalator and in the narrow passages of arthouse cinemas. How to break through to the meaning of the final scene? Maybe it is a universal, though very bitter, reflection on the crushing modes of history, the lack of love (and what follows from it?), the survival instinct, the fragile condition of beauty? Or maybe it just summarizes and merges the images of Goya’s Ghosts? Does every genius have their Ines (or maybe she was really present in the painter’s life, the prototype of the film)? What is an obsession? Evil? Good? The meaning of suffering? is there any? Or are we living in the best possible times?



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