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Milos Forman bares all of Natalie Portman in her best performance in GOYA'S GHOST?!?!?!

Hey folks, Harry here... and officially... I'm dying to see this film, and not for Portman's nudity... well, not entirely. No, this film has a great deal of interest for me. Amongst my favorite painters of all time is Goya. My time in Spain and at it's Prado left me with hours staring at his paintings. Looking at pictures of them, as with all paintings, do the work little to no justice. The glazes catching the light, the pale ambers and browns of his work. The horror of something like his SATURN devouring his children. His paintings are light blazing out of a murky darkness... and in person they are so emotional. I highly recommend the trip to Madrid and the Prado there to see his work. So, beyond the subject matter of Goya, the film deals with the Inquisition and its hypocrisy... and is in the hands of one of our master filmmakers... Milos Forman! Now, take note, this film is not the finished print and was being screened at Cannes... outside of competition for distributors to consider acquiring. From the sound of it, it sounds magnificent. Sure, Andrew isn't totally in love with it, but by the time this work is finished... I'm betting it will be something absolutely remarkable. It's a good year for Goya lovers. This... and then Guillermo Del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH is heavily inspired by the paintings of Goya. Including his SATURN painting and THE GREAT HE-GOAT painting. Beware of spoilers, here you go...

Hello Harry, Moriarty, and the rest of AICN,

Andrew-Wan Kenobi here. It's been a while since I handed in a review for you folks. I wish it could be one for Pirates of the Caribbean, Cars, or even Miami Vice. Instead it's for a film that most people will never, ever see. Hell! I'll be lucky if the talkback for this one gets more than 30 entries. Well, here goes nothing.

Back in April, I attended the first ever test screening of the new Milos Forman film, Goya's Ghosts. The film stars Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem, and Natalie Portman.

Before the screening, we were given the usual spiel of how the film wasn't finished, music is temp, effects shots weren't complete... yeah, yeah, yeah. What made this announcement more interesting than usual, is that it came from Saul Zaentz, who also produced 'Amadeus' and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.

Spain. 1792. The high council of the Catholic Church is looking over etchings that depict prostitution, child sexual abuse, witchcraft, and satiric critiques of the clergy. It's suggested that the artist be brought up on charges and arrested. However, Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem) defends the artist by saying that he is merely drawing what is happening around him and that he cannot be held accountable. He suggests that Spain is out of control, that the Spanish Inquisition be reinstated, and that he lead the fight. He tells his charges to look out for Jews, witches, and even worse... Protestants.

Next, we meet Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgard), who is painting Ines (played by Natalie Portman). There isn't much to the scene. It's just Portman looking radiant and setting up the fact that Goya is a master artist. Later, we watch as Goya paints and interacts with King Charles IV (played with glee by the Randy Quaid) and his wife Maria Louisa.

We follow Ines to a tavern, who is dining with friends. When a pig is served, she doesn't partake in the tasty dish that is the other white meat. Members of the Inquisition see this, assume that something is amiss, and have her arrested.

At her questioning, she swears that she is a good Christian and that she doesn't eat pork because she doesn't like the taste AND NOT because she practices Judaism. She is asked to prove this and is put to 'The Question'.

Now, 'The Question' isn't some bullshit interrogation involving comfy chairs and being poked with soft cushions. This is some major torture. Her hands are tied behind her back and then she is lifted off the ground... BY HER WRISTS! If you think that this sounds painful, well, you should see it. One more thing about this scene... NATALIE PORTMAN'S NAKED! (Well, at least the unfinished special effect of Natalie is.) It's not necessarily the ideal place to see her nude, but, you take what you can get, right guys?

In case you were wondering, Miss Portman doesn't have to deal with a Spanish accent. Neither does Skarsgard (who sounds just like Liam Nesson). In fact, no one seems to have a Spanish accent... with the exception of Javier Bardem. His accent is so thick in that makes him sound like a foreigner compared to everyone else in the film. At first, it's a little distracting. But in the end, it's not as distracting as watching Natalie in 'V For Vendetta' trying to speak with a realistic British accent.

So, when Ines doesn't return home after her arrest, Ines' father (who is a rich and successful merchant, named Thomas) pleads with Goya to use his connections with the church and get Ines released. Goya arranges to have Brother Lorenzo visit her in the joint. Upon his visit, Ines is still naked, wearing only shackles on her ankles. It turns out that Ines succumbed to the torture and 'confessed' to being a Jew. She pleads with Lorenzo, begging him to let her go and let her see her family. He says that she will need to go on trial and asks that she pray with him. During which time, he rapes her.

So, Thomas invites Goya and Lorenzo to dinner with his family (his wife and four sons), to find out his daughter's fate... and to attempt to bribe the church in exchange for his daughter's release.

During dinner, Lorenzo tells Thomas, Ines' mother and four brothers, that she is in good spirits and that she was 'put to the question'. Goya argues torture doesn't work and that under the right amount of pain, he would admit to anything. Brother Lorenzo argues that if one is innocent the fear of God will help you overcome your fear of pain. Thomas agrees with Goya and decides prove his point by putting 'The Question' to Lorenzo. Not too surprisingly, he succumbs to the pain and signs a crazy confession that the church takes very serious and Lorenzo is labeled as a fugitive.

16 years go by and King Charles' throne has been abdicated. Spain is now under the rule of Napoleon and the French. Goya is deaf. We learn all this because... get ready for this... Goya breaks through the forth wall and speaks directly toward to the camera!

I mean, come on. This isn't Moonlighting for cryin' out loud. Keep in mind this is the only narration in the film. If Goya was telling a story to someone, you could probably get away with it. In its current state, the scene doesn't work. I can deal with the lack of accents and a slow pace, but this scene has to be re-tooled.

In the meantime, we find that Father Lorenzo has joined the French Revolution, is now Napoleon's chief prosecutor. In an ironic twist, he has put his former colleagues from the church on trial. The prisoners of the Inquisition have now all been released, including Ines.

Unfortunately, 16 years shackled to a post have not been good to her. Her teeth are cracked and yellow. Her skin diseased and laden with boils and blisters. Her gorgeous hair has been reduced to a balding, mangy mess. When she speaks, her jaw moves as if it was injured and not properly heeled. Her transformation from a sweet, fun loving girl to a disheveled shadow of herself is wrenching.

She visits Goya and tells him of her time in the clink. She also tells him of a pregnancy... and I'm sure you can guess who she claims the father is.

The film turns into a search for Ines' daughter (who may or may not exist), Lorenzo's quest to hide the daughter (who may or may not exist), and Goya's obsession to help his muse and attempt to uncover the truth.

As you can probably tell, this isn't really a film about Goya. While he's is the central character, Goya's story takes a backseat to the maniacal Brother Lorenzo and the tormented Ines.

The movie is short on character development. We find out very little about Ines before her arrest (she's a pretty girl who poses for pictures and hates pork). We learn about Goya more from his paintings and sketches than from Skarsgard's performance (at least initially). Bardem's Father Lorenzo is the exception. From the moment we're introduced to him, we see him as a man who craves power and will do anything to attain it. His story is the most interesting and engaging.

As the actors go, Skarsgard and Bardem are as reliable as ever. They do their best to bring life and energy to roles that aren't very complex. However, it's Natalie Portman that steals the movie. Her portrayal of Ines is heartbreaking. At first glance she looks to be the token starlet who was cast specifically to bring in a younger demographic to the box office. Instead, we are graced with an emotional performance that is sure to be recognized this awards season.

As I stated before, the music was temp and not very memorable. I didn't recognize it from anywhere else. The film does not currently have a distributor (Saul Zaentz was in Cannes looking for a buyer). The winning history of past Zaentz/Forman efforts may be hard to pass up, but Goya's Ghosts will be a hard sell for audiences. It's not a picture that's going to burn up the box office.

Prediction? I see it making around $20-30 million. But only if it gets nominated during awards season. And it just may be, as it features Natalie Portman's best acting in years.

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