Milos Forman has built his career by pushing the limits of the Hollywood biopic. Amadeus showed Mozart through the eyes of Salieri; The People vs. Larry Flint made a porn-pusher look like Jimmy Stewart; Man on the Moon hinted that Andy Kaufman faked his death. One thing Forman has never done with a biopic, though, is not make a biopic. In that respect, if in no other, Goya’s Ghosts breaks new ground. Set in late-18th-century Spain, the drama centers on Goya’s muse (Natalie Portman), the daughter of a wealthy merchant who converted from Judaism. Unfortunately, Portman’s picky eating (who doesn’t like pork?) leads the Inquisition to condemn her, and it only gets worse when a young priest (Javier Bardem), in a spectacular example of scholastic logic, takes her request for prayer as an invitation to rape. Not a bad setup, but then the French Revolution sweeps in and mucks everything up. After that, the film takes as many plot-twists as Pirates of the Caribbean; distinctly Goya in its emphasis on the grotesque, it shows none of the Spaniard’s artistic economy.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 10, 2007