It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Milos Forman's "Goya's Ghosts" is an extraordinarily beautiful film that plays almost like an excuse to generate its images. Like the Goya prints being examined by the good fathers of the Inquisition in the opening scene, the images stand on their own, resisting the pull toward narrative, yet adding up to a portrait of grotesque people debased by their society. The priests lament Goya's negative portrait of Spain, which shows remarkable prescience on their part, since they're condemning in 1772 prints that were not created by the painter until 1799.
In fiction, fooling around with historical accuracy is allowed, and "Goya's Ghosts" indulges itself. Many of the characters did indeed exist, but I wonder if they really performed many of their actions in this film. The events concern not only the Spanish artist (Stellan Skarsgard) but Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem), one of the Inquisition's priests, and Ines Bilbatua (Natalie Portman), the beautiful young daughter of a local merchant.
Goya uses Ines as a model for the angels he paints for churches. He is also a court painter, engaged in a portrait of Queen Maria Luisa (Blanca Portillo), and also a portrait commission by Lorenzo, who recognizes his genius. When Ines is spotted by Inquisition spies declining a dish of pork in a tavern, she is hauled in, accused of Judaism and tortured until she confesses her "sin." Her father (Jose Luis Gomez) goes to Goya to ask him to intervene with Lorenzo, and all their lives are intertwined.
The Holy Office of the Inquisition referred to torture as "being put to the question." The theory was God would give you strength to tell only the truth. Ines' father's theory is that people will confess to anything if they are tortured, an insight that has never gone out of style. The father persuasively argues this point with Lorenzo, in a scene that Variety unkindly compares to Monty Python. Fifteen years pass; Napoleon conquers Spain and abolishes the Inquisition; Lorenzo, having fled, signs on to the principles of the French Revolution and surfaces as a prosecutor for Napoleon. His job includes jailing the former Inquisitor General (Michael Lonsdale). Meanwhile, Ines is released from the dungeons, where she had a daughter, who ...