Goya in Bordeaux Review
By Christopher Null
I'll admit, I have fit all my knowledge of Spanish painter Francisco Goya into the sentence you're reading right now. What's a Spanish painter doing in Bordeaux, France? I don't know, and after watching this film, I still don't know. I had to read a synopsis on the movie's web site to find out he had been exiled there. I'm still not sure why.
To be certain, Goya in Bordeaux assumes the audience is deeply intimate with his Goya's work, his life, and his politics. It's a love letter written to the man by writer/director Carlos Saura, who clearly idealizes everything about the artist. Unless you are like Saura, this will undoubtedly be seen as a not good thing.
The story, as it is, gives us an ancient and fat Goya (Francisco Rabal), in aforementioned exile, recounting his life to the impossibly young daughter of who-knows-how-many love affairs. A great lover in his younger days (played by José Coronado) during the late 1700s -- and aren't all Spanish men in film great lovers? -- he hung with the powdered wig set as his dark paintings brought the ire of Spanish "absolutists." Going deaf at the age of 46, Goya soon turned into a bitter man, his work taking on ever more morose and disturbing themes, eventually driving him to near insanity. And France.
Goya's work is generously on display in the film, unlike most entries into the genre which do not get permission to show the works and end up having to fake it (see garbage like Surviving Picasso and Love is the Devil for examples of how bad this is). Through his deathbed hallucinations, we even get to see Goya's most famous works reenacted and come to life -- with zombies coming out of the walls to attack our slumbering hero. These sequences reminded me of everything from 2001 to Vertigo, and Saura's lighting trickery and flair with the scenes rescue Goya from entering a canon of truly atrocious painter-biopics.
Too bad the rest of the movie is nowhere near as successful. Coronado is a dashing leading man, but his portrayal of Goya is so perplexing due to its lack of exposition, one wonders if he is being true to his character or even his surroundings. The political context of Spain in 1780 isn't something many moviegoers or I are going to have at the top of their minds, and the film does nothing to help you through it.
Then again, this is a Spanish film about a Spanish national treasure. I don't remember Mel Gibson going out of his way to explain the revolutionary background of The Patriot, either.
Aka Goya in Burdeos.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 12th November 1999
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: Televisión Española (TVE), Lolafilms, Italian International Film, RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, Vía Digital
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 12
Cast & Crew
Producer: Andrés Vicente Gómez
Starring: Francisco Rabal as Goya, José Coronado as Goya Joven (as Jose Coronado), Dafne Fernández as Rosario (as Dafne Fernádez), Maribel Verdú as Duquesa de Alba, Eulalia Ramón as Leocadia, Joaquín Climent as Moratín, Cristina Espinosa as Pepita Tudó, Josep Maria Pou as Godoy (as Jose María Pou), Saturnino García as Cura y San Antonio, Concha Leza as Mujer en Andalucía, Franco di Francescantonio as Doctor en Andalucía, Carlos Hipólito as Juan Valdés (as Carlos Hipolito)