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'Goya in Bordeaux'

Visual director brings the artist's work to life in 'Goya in Bordeaux'

Friday, November 24, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Goya in Bordeaux," opening today at the Regent Square Theater, is a post-Thanksgiving feast of a different sort: It bathes you in color, light, images and imagination.

'Goya In Bordeaux'

RATING: R for some sexuality and violent imagery.

STARRING: Francisco Rabal, Jose Coronado

DIRECTOR: Carlos Saura




It makes Spanish-born artist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) and his artwork come alive, sometimes literally, sometimes feverishly. Haunting subjects slide off the wall and encircle Goya. Engravings of wartime disasters are brought to life, as if on a dramatically lit stage. And the reported love of his life, the Duchess of Alba, captured in a famous 1797 portrait, appears on a foggy street or in his home, long after she has died.

Director-writer Carlos Saura, who dazzled audiences with the Oscar-nominated "Tango," brings an exquisite sense of his prolific subject -- 500 oil paintings, nearly 300 etchings and lithographs -- to the screen. Saura, here making his 30th film, considers Goya his favorite painter, and he introduces him as an ailing, aged man living in Bordeaux with a young companion and 12-year-old daughter. We first see him, pale-faced, in a long white nightshirt, his breathing so labored that we can hear it.

But we also spin back in dreams or time with him, to the golden days when he was ambitious and eager to become the court painter. We watch as he falls in love with the duchess, as he recalls the illness that left him deaf at age 45 and as he does any number of signature works, from "Miracle of Saint Anthony of Padua" on the cupola of a Madrid church to the tormented "Black Paintings" he did on his walls. "Why can't you paint something happy?" he is asked. Because these are not happy times, he replies.

The subtitled "Goya in Bordeaux," starring Francisco Rabal and Jose Coronado as the older and younger versions of the artist, is in no way a complete look at the painter, his life or evolving techniques. It skips over his childhood and youth, when he was apprenticed to a church decorator. On his deathbed, Goya says his life has gone by "like a gust of wind" and he's forgotten those earlier years. "Who am I now?" he asks.

One of my criticisms of "Tango" was that while it was masterfully choreographed and photographed, it was stingy with character backgrounds. Like "Tango," "Goya" is dazzling in its visuals but spotty with details.

He mentions and we briefly see his wife, Josefa Bayeu, but the births of his children -- many of whom did not survive -- are glossed over. So is Goya's influence on later artists, such as Delacroix, Guys, Daumier and Manet. "Goya" presumes the audience either knows something about the painter or the period, or will want to learn more after seeing the film. Unlike most moviegoers, critics have the luxury of production notes and colleagues with shelves of art history books.

"Goya" is as much about the filmmaking as the man. Walls become transparent, canvases turn translucent, and light and color are used to convey emotions and memories. Much of the credit for the look of the movie is due cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Oscar winner for "The Last Emperor," "Reds" and "Apocalypse Now." This is the fourth collaboration between director and cinematographer.

Here, the medium is clearly the message -- and the method.

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