Such are the vagaries of art and art films in the United States that it would be hard to forecast much boxoffice beyond the specialty market. But for film and art lovers, Saura has rendered an exquisite and dynamic piece of pure cinema.
The movie takes place in the mind of Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes in the final months of his life in 1826, while living in political exile in France. Played by veteran actor Francisco Rabal, the 82-year-old painter recalls to himself and to his young daughter, Rosario (Dafne Fernandez) by the last of his mistresses, the key moments of his life.
Meanwhile, he paints on the walls of his house at night because he insists the colors are much warmer by candlelight. These paintings are crowded with terrorized people and the scourge of warfare. His much younger lover (Eulalia Ramon) despairs of such sad, haunted faces in her home.
Goya relates to Rosario stories of his ups and downs, his wife and mistresses and his tricky maneuverings within the sinister Spanish court where he eventually earned the title of court painter.
He tells her of these royal intrigues, the occupied government under Joseph Bonaparte and his intense love for the Duchess of Alba (the beauteous Maribel Verdu), whom he claims was poisoned by her enemies. But most importantly, the Aragonese painter tells her of his deafness at age 46, a beneficent "affliction" that caused him to settle into his work with sufficient passion and concentration to become the man who fathered modern painting.
Shooting largely in a studio where walls can vanish and engravings appear, Saura and his team do to Goya what he did to the world he saw: Using shadow, space, color and light, the filmmakers view the span of his life through a series of impressionistic flashbacks and nightmares that relate that life to the vision he created.
There are some powerful images here -- of tormented souls in his paintings moving off the walls to surround the dazed painter, and of Goya, his face a decaying ruin, wearing a top hat whose brim is crowded with lit candles so he can do detail work while others slumber.
Rabal is remarkable. His Goya is a man of mesmerizing power yet with a hint of restless unease at his approaching mortality. Equally as important is the performance of Jose Coronado as the younger Goya, clearly a man of tremendous sensuality and brazen confidence in his abilities with a paint brush and in bed.
The era's politics are sketched too swiftly for those unfamiliar with that treacherous time when Spain tried to prevent liberal tendencies in France from sneaking across the border. So too with the artistic traditions Goya broke and the community of artists and thinkers within which he moved while in exile.
But Goya comes to life so vividly that even a historical nincompoop would be impressed. It was fitting that the film festival screened "Goya in Bordeaux" in its Masters section.
GOYA IN BORDEAUX
LolaFilms/Italian International Film
Credits: Producer: Andres Vicente Gomez; Writer-director: Carlos Saura; Co-producer: Fulvio Lucisano; Director of photography: Vittorio Storaro; Production designer: Pierre-Louis Thevenet; Music: Roque Banos; Costume designer: Pedro Moreno; Editor: Julia Juaniz. Cast: Goya: Francisco Rabal; Goya as a young man: Jose Coronado; Rosario: Dafne Fernandez; Duchess of Alba: Maribel Verdu; Leocadia: Eulalia Ramon. No MPAA rating. Color/stereo. Running time -- 110 minutes.