Goya In Bordeaux review

:. Director: Carlos Saura
:. Starring: Francisco Rabal, José Coronado
:. Running Time: 1:40
:. Year: 1999
:. Country: Spain

Carlos Saura's (Tango, Ay Carmela, Blood Wedding) latest endeavor brings the life and art of whom Andre Malraux considered the world's first modern painter onto the screen: Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). Saura's eye for art and humanity (as well as celebrating his love of Spanish arts) brings the full emotional force of Goya's passion and witness to war and history onto the screen.

Played by Francisco Rabal, the story revolves around Goya's final days as a briny 82 year old living in Bordeaux in 1828 with his last wife Leocadia (Eulalia Ramon) and 12 year old daughter Rosario (Dafne Fernandez). Saura uses his daughter as the focal point of his story, and through a series of flashbacks Goya regales her with stories about his life, loves, political intrigue of the Spanish court, and the art that combined all three. Further, as his reality is clouded by mental confusion, his old and young selves blend so he relives instead of merely recounting and cannot always distinguish the two.

In the surreal opening scene Goya wakes up and wanders in his nightshirt from his unfamiliar bedroom, down a black and white tiled hallway, and out into the street where he bumps into Frenchmen as he searches for Cayetana, the Duchess of Alba, subject of many of his paintings. His questions of where he is and where is he going are the questions of the artist, the exile and a man nearing the end of his life. Saura focuses on the interior world of Francisco Goya and not on life in France. He is an outsider here circled by his exile friends and help.

Saura creates a very modern relationship between Goya and his daughter—he treats the 12 year old as if she were his friend and speaks to her of his greatest love: Cayetana, the Duchess of Alba (played by the sultry Maribel Verdu). Saura has crafted a moving scene where the artist speaks to her man to man as he recounts his passionate affair and his suspicion that the jealous Queen poisoned her. His rise as a court painter and deafness that afflicted him after the age of 46 gave him more freedom to follow his own route, and he encourages his daughter to find her own style.

The acting is quite good. Francisco Rabal is excellent as the dying Goya, combining cantankerousness, vigor, and gentleness. He is angry but not defeated, a painter who still paints at night on the walls of his house, candles surrounding his hat to provide him with light as he creates his Black paintings. Jose Coronado plays Goya as a young man and has an arrogant Don Juan quality that makes him an equal to his lover Cayetana but also demonstrates artistic sensibility. As 12 year old Rosario, Daphne Fernandez is the essence of a patient girl ready to be treated as an adult.

Another highlight of the movie is the moving interpretations of his "Visions of War" series. The reenacted scenes of Napoleon's invasion of Spain capture the essence of his pain for his countrymen as Goya's role as witness to history.

The work of sublime cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Last Emperor, and Tango) combined with the art director P. Louis Thevenet creates a fantastic sense of color, space, and darkness. The theatrical settings of opaque and transparent walls perfectly show the conflicted interior world of Goya. Like Being John Malkovich and The Cell, physical space is used to enter the mind of its characters. Here the work is much more subtle and artistic than these films, and as a result Goya's dreamlike world takes over.

With Goya in Bordeaux, Saura has a crafted an exquisite movie where the art of biography becomes art itself.

  Anji Milanovic

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