Goya in Bordeaux (Goya en Burdeos) (Spain, 1999) *** 1/4
Written & directed by Carlos Saura. Photography, Vittorio Storaro. Art director, Pierre-Louis Thevent. Editing, Julia Juaniz. Music, Roque Banos. Cast: Francesco Rabal (old Goya), Jose Coronado (younger Goya), Dafne Fernandez (Rosario), Maribel Verdu (Duchess of Alba), Eulalia Ramon (Leocadia), Joe Mai Pou (Godoy), et al. Sony Pic. Classic release. Spanish with subtitles. Ca. 100 minutes. R (violent scenes)
Since the film has been around for several weeks it has been widely reviewed. Some opinions are tepid, some positive, others ecstatic. Much depends on what a viewer knows about the great Spanish painter (1746-1828), art, aSpanish history, Napoleonic Wars, etc. Much also depends on what the spectator expects from a film about a major artist to be.
It is decidedly not a documentary, an "educational" movie, a traditional biography, or anything familiar in movies. The closest to a categorization is : a fractured Goyaesque view of periods, elements, the personality and the talent of Goya, qua artist and qua human being.
It is civilized cinema. Its most obvious main attribute is the superb cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, the Italian master who has won a record four Oscars : The Last Emperor, One From the Heart, Reds, Apocalypse Now,
Goya is introduced as an exile in Bordeaux (France) at age 82. (This un-didactic and un-academic film may give the impression that he had been sent into exile, but this was a voluntarily exile of many Spanish Liberals who detested the royal regime). In France, the widowed Goya lives with his latest mistress Leocadia who is his junior by 40 years, and his youngest daughter Rosario who is a lovely, loving child, smart and wise beyond her years.
Old Goya is played by Francisco Rabal who was then about 74. Rabal has been in about 185 movies, Spanish, international ( French, Mexican, Italian, American, etc.) Many were directed by such masters as Torre-Nilsson, Bunuel, Saura, Bardem,Visconti, Antonioni, Tanner and others. For those who remember the younger Rabal, he is unrecognizable here. The old man Old Goya is a human wreck, a debilitated monster, cranky, crotchety, tormented by the past and present, and a lip reader since losing his hearing at age 45. His "story" is told without crystal-clear chronology, mostly to his daughter or as visions, with zig-zags of time. The flashbacks and flashforwards lead to a multiplicity of periods, as well as the joining of past and present in several scenes. (One must suspend disbelief in the many sections where Goya read lips so well that reality becomes mythical.)
The "young" Goya is well performed by 42-year old Jose Coronado who notwithstandings some 20 films is unknown outside Spain. A small puzzle: while Coronado plays his Goya at different ages, he looks essentially the same. But then, the movie is such a work a fantasy that literal realism is no big problem.
There is no way to tell the "story" without using up column inches or confusing the reader. The movie is self-explanatory, the art of the superb director Carlos Saura is apparent, his collaboration with Storaro seamless.
The film is a cauldron with a paella of thoughts, talk and visuals about art, with interspersed sketches, drawings, engravings, still paintings, paintings that move and take on life, homages to Velasquez (both by the film and by Goya), "tableaux vivants," politics, and the long affair between Goya and the love of his life. She is always in his heart and mind. The Duchess of Alba was a great beauty, a great wit, a powerful political figure, the richest woman in Spain and at some point the hated enemy of the King and Queen. The latter and her lover Godoy poisoned her, says Goya. The Duchess was the model for Goya's paintings "The Naked Maja" and "The Clothed Maja" which stand in amazing contrast to the revolutionary series "The Disasters of War."
Carlos Saura grew up as a passionate lover of films, music (his mother was a concert pianist), painting (his brother was a famous artist), dance, theater and everything concerning art, politics, psychology or behavior. His record is sublime, from realistic to symbolic or allegorical political films (during the years of that other Francisco, dictator Franco), to poetic works on love, dance and music (within dramas) which blend traditions and experimentation, and more. He made Goya at age 67. His passion for the subject and the film are obvious and striking. I can't help feeling that they are colored by the Master's intimation of mortality.