Directed by Milos Forman. Starring Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgí¥rd, and Natalie Portman. Rated 14A.
There are so many things superficially wrong with this alleged period piece, it's all too easy to overlook the fact that Goya's Ghosts is actually one of contemporary cinema's most accurate portraits of the modern world. If one can look beyond the lack of narrative drive and dynamic character construction, as well as all of the international accents in this deracinated English-language feature, one is left with a powerful impression of our terrible present (even if the plot does revolve around a Spanish inquisitor who reinvents himself as a revolutionary prosecutor in the wake of Napoleon's invasion of Iberia in the early years of the 19th century).
When we first meet Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem), he is shown bewailing the fact that the Holy Office has "only" burnt eight heretics in the past half-century. Then the young and beautiful Inés (Natalie Portman, who will also portray her clueless illegitimate daughter, Alicia) falls into this not-so-celibate monk's hands on the most ridiculous of pretexts. Despite the best efforts of famed artist Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgí¥rd)for whom the prisoner is more of an angel than a mere mortal and Inés's well-connected family, the girl remains a prisoner until Joseph Bonaparte is crowned King of Spain, after which Lorenzo returns in a new, if similar, official capacity. (In the real world, dwarfing these semihistorical events are such horrors as the invasion of Iraq and America's grotesque justifications for its monstrous PATRIOT Act the Spanish Inquisition, indeed).
Perhaps most chilling is the film's emphasis on Goya's political impotence. In dark times, the movie makes clear, the best that art can do is show what happened. Its ability to change things, conversely, is nonexistent, alas.