Pure paper tiger, Goya’s Ghosts seems destined to resurface as part of a retrospective a decade or two hence, at which point rep-house completists will survey the synopsis and credits and ponder: Why haven’t I ever heard of this movie? Attempting to build a movie around Francisco Goya, Czech New Waver-cum-luxury-line helmsman Milos Forman and his co-writer, European co-production gun-for-hire Jean-Claude Carrière, catch Biopic Bloat, shoehorning all significant events of their subject’s time into his life. So Goya (Stellan Skarsgård), the court painter of King Carlos IV (Randy Quaid — you can’t make this cast up), happens to paint commissioned portraits of a Spanish Inquisition priest (Javier Bardem) and an imminent Inquisitee (Natalie Portman); a thesis about the capacity of art to speak truth to power is sporadically developed amid History Channel-quality digressions into court politics, the Napoleonic Wars, and The Garden of Earthly Delights; capital-t Topical bloviating on the ethics of torture; and a straight-faced treatment of material (especially Portman’s slack-jawed rendering of a long-term guest of the Church) better treated as camp. Still, between the odorous personal touch of Forman’s camera and the unchecked hammy charisma of Bardem’s fork-tongued routine, tomorrow’s rediscoverers won’t feel liked the expedition was a total waste.
Opens July 20 at the Angelika Film Center