Sunday, May 06, 2007

Good Grief, Natalie, Take A Bath!

[Spoilers Ahead] Most of those pictures you've been seeing of Natalie Portman in Goya's Ghosts- you know, the ones where she's done up in fragile, dainty dresses with beautiful black hair, like the one on the right- well, they're incredibly misleading. For most of the film she looks like she's been dragged through a hedge backwards, punched in the jaw, covered in shit (a la Carice van Houten in Black Book) and left to rot in a baking hot sun. I'd have no problem with this had it been realistic (hell, her character *had* been chained in a lightless cell for fifteen years), but good god someone on that make-up crew needs firing. She looks like a 150-year-old zombie. Also, surely it's perfectly possible that she could have taken a bath once she'd been released. No? Anyone?

Not that the rest of the film is much better. It's like it's been edited by a three-year-old with crazy scissors- it makes not a lick of narrative sense. It may be named after Goya but the fact that the actor playing him, Stellan Skarsgard (very odd choice), is credited a lowly third should clue you in to the fact that he's not exactly the focus. It may be the most absurdly titled movie we see this year. The film seems to want to be about so many things that as soon as it comes within a mile of them it thinks its job is done and it moves onto the next one. What is this movie about, you may ask? I would struggle to answer that question, although the poster (almost as bad as the other one) might help us out: Javier Bardem, sounding like he's got something stuck deeply in his throat (it's like he's trying to do a Spanish accent, even though he's already got one), is Brother Lorenzo, a Monk who is roped in by Goya to help out when one of his subjects, Ines (Portman), is falsely labelled a heretic (she wouldn't eat some pork) and subjected to "the question" (ie. torture) and so falsely confesses. The early stages of Goya's Ghosts encounter such absurdities that it feels like some kind of farcical medieval play. Lorenzo is invited to dinner with Ines' family and then subjected to the question himself, which is simultaneously unnerving and hilarious; and then there are the grotesque scenes in the underground prison, where Lorenzo suddenly decides to force himself on the naked Ines, for reasons unknown (although granted, rather obvious- he IS a monk, after all). There's also some brief hilarity involving the King (Randy Quaid, for some reason) and his "ugly" Queen (Blanca Portillo) who gets painted by Goya and then proceeds to wordlessly leave both the room and the film when she sees the final product.

Any motivation for the characters to do anything they do seems to have been chiselled violently out. Napoleon turns up, then Wellington, meaning that the monks are imprisoned and then released again, while Lorenzo disappears for a while and turns up again suddenly. And Portman (in easily the best performance) is suddenly employed to play her character's own daughter, who seems to have been invented solely so that Forman (that'd be Milos Forman, once a great director) can show off how pretty she is, actually! Goya's Ghosts skirts all sorts of political and religious and historical and social and emotional issues but doesn't see fit to investigate any of them, instead telling a story that fails to make much sense and leaving most of its performers flailing about wildly. The production is solid enough but it's all in service of nothing so ultimately feels defunct. In a strange way, it reminded me of Peter Weiss' play Marat/Sade- only the chorus here were playing it straight. Grade: D+

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