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Goya in Bordeaux

Posted by martinteller on May 30, 2013

The painter Francisco Goya (Francisco Rabal as the older, José Coronado as the younger) has fled the oppressive regime in Spain to spend his final years in Bordeaux.  As his health fails, his mind drifts into reverie.  He tells his daughter Rosario (Dafne Fernandez) of his past, especially his love for his muse, the Duchess of Alba (Maribel Verdú).

Saura is clearly not interested in your standard artist biopic.  There’s little in the way of biographical information.  Instead he weaves through present and past, fantasy and reality in a manner that recalls Raoul Ruiz.  Scenes are often arranged in tableaux vivants that recreate Goya’s work.  As he did in Blood Wedding, Saura uses obviously false soundstages to give the drama a more theatrical vibe.  As Goya passes through the corridors of his Bordeaux home into his past, the walls become translucent to show his movements.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous film with help from Saura’s frequent collaborator, the master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.  Deep primary colors bring Goya’s art and fantasies to vibrant life, intriguing effects transform a cow’s carcass into Rabal’s tormented face.

One does wish for more specificity, however.  Goya’s torment is too vague, and in some ways the film could almost be about any artist.  It seems to be a film designed for viewers already familiar with Goya’s life and work.  Without enough context, it really doesn’t say anything new or enlightening about the artistic drive in general or Goya’s artistry in particular.  The individual fragments are often wonderful, but don’t add up to enough of substance.  The style, unusual structure, stunning imagery and wandering mood make it worthwhile enough, but it’s not one of Saura’s more successful films.  Rating: Good (71)


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