Goya’s Ghosts (2007) Film Review

Spain, 2007, 114 minutes, 35mm

I wanted to like Goya’s Ghosts. The previews had made it out to look like the film was centrally focused on controversy about Goya’s work and life, when in fact Goya’s presence was merely a fleeting tangent. That was the first noticeable turnoff of the movie, and the first of many to come.

The film opened with a painting that had a blurred out face. Francisco Goya, played by Stellan Skarsgard, casually revealed that the face of the man was blurred because “the man was a ghost.” Ooh, you think, this little anecdote must come into play somewhere down this road, since this movie is called Goya’s Ghosts, right? Wrong! The point never really is solidly addressed although one can vaguely speculate, I suppose, but the general gist is that Goya’s Ghost never fully realizes the meaning behind the weight of its title. In fact, very few things seem to realize their true potential in this movie; all of the main characters don’t seem to know who they are or what they are doing, with the exception of maybe Brother Lorenzo, played by Javier Bardem, who seems to be the only real legitimately well-developed character in the movie. He also happens to be the one you’re supposed to hate.

The film is primarily about the Spanish Inquisition, the time in Spain when the church persecuted and tortured innocent people based merely on suspicion that they were heretics, Judaists, or other forms of “sinners.” Natalie Portman’s character, Ines, is one of the innocent girls who is persecuted and locked away from the world, while her caring family fights desperately for her release.

It is a fascinating enough plot, and due to decent art direction, this movie very well could have been good, if not great. But in the end, the biggest problem with this movie is its extreme lack of focus. It was as though no one could decide whether the movie was a comedy, love story, or drama. The events around the story – those of torture and loss – were serious and emotionally draining, but the attempts by the script to make certain points of the movie comical were badly timed. These attempts were pathetic at best and stupid humor at worst. Adding to this was the inappropriately joyful music used in times which should have been serious, and the lack of dichotomy between comedy and drama makes this movie seem to lack soul.

Milos Forman

Saul Zaentz

Varhan Bauer

Javier Bardem
Natalie Portman
Stellan Skarsgard
Randy Quaid
Michael Lonsdale

Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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