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This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the February 21,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

At the Movies: Carlos Saura

Without imagination, we’re nothing more than animals.

With your imagination, you can commit the worst crime and nobody will

punish you. You can rise into the heavens, or fall down into Hell,

be enormous or infinitely small, be an artistic genius, or the best

strategist, or the most powerful politician. There’s only one danger,

child. You have to know when to stop, or you will be devoured by the

darkness and insanity."

Such are the mysteries that the ancient, deaf, and bulbous Francisco

de Goya (Francisco Rabal) offers to his 12-year-old daughter Rosario

(Dafne Fernandez) about halfway through Carlos Saura’s film "Goya

in Bordeaux", playing at the New Jersey Film Festival, February

23 to 25. But the film, unlike the man, possesses only a tepid


relying primarily on stage tricks. Despite some interesting moments,

it ultimately leaves the viewer wishing for more.

Francisco de Goya was one of the great masters to have emerged from

Spain and is considered by many to be the "father of modern


The poet Federico Garcia Lorca believed Goya to have been infused

with "duende" — the mysterious dark power that


feels but no philosopher has been able to explain." Goya produced

his paintings, lithographs, and drawings over a 60 year period from

the last half of the 18th century through the first quarter of the

19th century. While much of his work can classified as celebrations

of life, many of his later paintings are dark and bitter ruminations

on the cruelties, bloated vanities, and false pretenses of life.

Saura’s "Goya in Bordeaux" zeros in on this final chapter

of Goya’s life. Unable to stomach the corrupt regime of King Ferdinand

VII, he is shown living his last years in voluntary exile in France,

sipping wine, visiting with friends, and occasionally working on his

dark nightmarish paintings.

Much of the film is consumed with flashbacks of earlier

days, as Goya tells his life story to Rosario. His daughter is not

a great listener, as her attention occasionally drifts off, yet she

is the only audience the old man has left. But while his life as a

painter is given short-shift, much attention is devoted to his hot

mid-life love affair with the Duchess of Alba (Maribel Verdu). It

is she, of the many affairs Goya enjoyed throughout his life, whom

he has transformed to the realm of myth and metaphor. For when Goya

dreams of death — which he does quite often in this film —

he sees it as the face of the Duchess.

Building a film around a painter’s life has inherent dangers:


the raw, sensuous beauty of a freshly mixed splotch of paint on a

movie screen is a pretty tough thing to do. This is why most such

movies tend to forgo the living breathing creative process and focus

instead on the bizarre behavior of the artist, which, given the


of historical documentation, the filmmaker usually has to invent.

After all, it is perhaps more intrinsically "filmic" to watch

a flaming redhead slice off his ear, or to seduce a scantily clad

young model than to see him or her stand patiently at an easel and

dab a soft mixture of cobalt blue and burnt umber with the frayed

end of a Q-tip.

Yet critics are giving high marks to "Pollock," a new


of the rise and fall of Jackson Pollock, directed by and starring

Ed Harris. Harris reportedly worked hard to replicate the artist’s

tradition-defying painting technique. The film opened in New York

and Los Angeles last week following a one-week Manhattan run in


to qualify for the Oscar nominations duly received.

John Huston’s 1952 film "Moulin Rouge" set Hollywood’s


tone, featuring Jose Ferrer as a scrubbed up version of Henri de


whose penchant for prostitutes was neatly sidestepped in deference

to the Hays Commission. "Lust for Life" offered us Kirk


as a kind of wolfman-like Vincent Van Gogh with Day-Glo orange hair

and suffering from an inability to contain his high-strung nature.

"The Wolf at the Door," a 1986 film starring Donald Sutherland

as Paul Gauguin, offered a more sedate version of the artist as


but still resorted to its share of sweet young beauties hopping in

and out of the great man’s bed.

Although the characters in these films pay lip-service to the


of the act of creation — how it defines their lives, how they

would die if they were unable to work — none of them ever actually

seems to get very much work done. There is barely a nodding glance

given to the actual physical act of painting, which despite what these

filmmakers seem to think, can be a fascinating thing to watch.

It took Martin Scorsese’s "Life Lessons" to prove it. Nick

Nolte plays a fictional neo-expressionist painter who is literally

immersed in the act of painting. Again and again we watch as Nolte

creates something out of nothing, sensuously applying rich wet swirls

of multifarious color upon color, using brushes, sticks, and various

parts of his body, all to the driving beat of raucous rock music


out of his boom-box. While watching these scenes, one is invited into

the rapture of creation, and one can understand why so many sacrifice

so much to experience it. Scorsese, one of our most talented


is also one of the first to understand this.

In Carlos Saura’s "Goya in Bordeaux" we go back to the formula

of too much talk and not enough action. For all of Goya’s


as to the power of imagination, he might as well be a watch repairman.

Although there are two brief scenes of Goya poking at a canvas with

a brush, nothing is ever created before our eyes. His paintings remain

unconvincing. And the total effect is clinical. It is amazing that

filmmakers, involved as they are in creating visual images, don’t

understand the unique beauty an audience gets in watching someone

create something right before their eyes.

This said, "Goya in Bordeaux" is not a bad film. Its storyline

of a dying old man wishing to impart some of his experience to the

youngster is certainly interesting enough. With Vittorio Storaro as

cinematographer (he also created the unique look of such films as

"Reds," "Last Tango in Paris," and "Apocalypse

Now") it is also pretty to look at. It also has its fair share

of visual gimmickry such as vanishing walls and faces morphing out

of the innards of a slaughtered carcass.

But the ultimate effect is that "Goya in Bordeaux" is a missed

opportunity. One looks for art and receives only artifice. One wishes

for a little more ambition, a little more imagination. To really


Francisco de Goya, go see his work. His print suites and paintings

are in the collection of the Art Museum, Princeton University.

— Jack Florek

Goya in Bordeaux, New Jersey Film Festival, New

Brunswick, 732-932-8482. Friday to Sunday, February 23 to 25.

New Jersey Film Festival is presented by the Rutgers Film

Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, New Brunswick. Screenings are

Fridays through Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue Campus

(near the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street). Thursday

screenings are in Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass College Campus (near

the corner of Nichol Avenue and George Street). All programs begin

at 7 p.m.; $5 non-members. Information 732-932-8482; Website:

Potemkin, on the big screen, Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925

classic drama depicting the mutiny about the Battleship Potemkin,

generally considered one of the most important films in the history

of cinema, Thursday, February 22. Goya in Bordeaux, Carlos


portrait of the final years in the life of the exiled Spanish painter,

Francisco Goya. Friday to Sunday, February 23 to 25.

I Am Cuba, Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 film, co-authored

with Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Cuban writer Enrique

Pineda Barnet, which was made at the height of the Cold War and banned

in the U.S. until 1995, Thursday, March 1. Quills, Geoffrey

Rush, Michael Caine, and Kate Winslet star in Philip Kaufman’s new

film about the final days of the notorious Marquis de Sade, Friday

to Sunday, March 2 to 4.

Orfeu, Carlos Diegues new, exhilarating revision of the

Greek myth of the musician Orpheus set to a samba and hip-hop score,

Friday to Sunday, March 23 to 25.

Top Of Page

Villagers Theater, 475 DeMott Lane, Somerset, has


for Ira Levin’s "Deathtrap" on Monday and Wednesday, February

26 and 28, at 7:30 p.m., at the theater. Readings will be from the

script. Show runs April 27 to May 19. Call 732-873-2710.

Top Of Page
Participate Please

Mercer County College and Trenton’s Passage Theater

Company at Mill Hill Playhouse have teamed up to provide new


for students in the college’s theater and dance programs. Nick


Passage’s associate artistic director, is Mercer’s new coordinator

for the theater arts program. Students will have the opportunity to

work with professional actors at Passage. Mercer offers associate

degrees in performing arts, theater, and dance at the James Kerney

Campus in Trenton. For information, call Anselmo at 609-392-0766.

Lawrence Symphony, an amateur sight-reading orchestra

in its ninth season, is seeking violin, viola, and cello players.

The group meets to play on the first and third Tuesdays at the


Senior Center, 30 East Darrah Lane. There are no performances. Yearly

dues of $10 go toward the group’s music library. Call Bob Mueller

at 609-448-2605.

The Dramatists Workshop Series at Peddie School invites

New Jersey playwrights to submit works for public reading. The works

are presented as rehearsed staged readings and audiences are invited

to participate in post-performance discussion. Send submissions to

Robert Rund, Peddie School, Box A, South Main Street, Hightstown


Deadline is Thursday, March 15.

The Arts Council of Princeton is seeking submissions of

poetry and prose by authors under 18. "Under Age," an


of creative works, will be published in the spring. Students may


up to three pieces in English or Spanish. The deadline is Friday,

March 16. Call 609-924-8777.

New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark seeks


to perform during its 2001 series of "Absolut Sounds of the


a free outdoor summer concert series in Theater Square. Each group

receives a $350 honorarium and may sell their CDs, tapes, and promote

upcoming performances. Applications with CD or cassette demo and


information are due by Friday, March 16. Call Elisabeth Ssenjjovu,


HealthWays Natural Apothecary, 145 Route 31, Pennytown

Shopping Village, will begin a Homeopathy Study Group on Tuesday,

February 27, from 7 p.m. Call Mary Vitullo, 609-333-0721.

Jewish Community Center of the Delaware Valley is planning

a reunion of campers and staff members of the JCC camps, Abrams Day

Camp, and Teen Travel. A directory and a party are planned for next

summer. To join the mailing list, call 609-883-9550.

NAMI Mercer announces their free support groups for


of children or adolescents with mental health issues. The support

groups are every 1st and 3rd Wednesday, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the

Presbyterian Church, 1039 Lawrence Road, Lawrenceville. Call


Rutgers’ Center of Alcohol Studies is seeking couples

to participate in the "Rutgers Couples Assistance Program,"

a treatment outcome study funded by the National Institute of Drug

Abuse. A modified form of couples therapy successful in treating


couples is used in committed, heterosexual relationships. Couples

are needed in which the male has abused drugs but does not use IV

heroin, is psychiatrically stable, and is between the ages of 18 and

75. The treatment protocol includes interviews, therapy sessions for

six months, and follow-up interviews. Call 732-445-0901.

The National Arbor Day Foundation has published a booklet

about "Conservation Trees" with information on how to plant

shade trees, how to prune them, and how to attract songbirds. For

the free booklet, send name and address to Conservation Trees,


Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE 68410.

Quail Ridge Press seeks cookbooks published by


church groups, or individuals in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and

Washington D.C., to be considered for possible inclusion in "Best

of the Best from the Mid-Atlantic: Selected Recipes from Delaware,

New Jersey, Washington D.C." For information contact Barbara


editor, "Best of the Best State Cookbook Series," Quail Ridge

Press, 1-800-343-1583,

Top Of Page
Volunteer Alert

Contact of Mercer County New Jersey is looking for


to maintain its free 24-hour telephone crisis hotline. Three training

courses begin on Wednesday, March 21, or Saturday, March 31. Classes

will be held at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Hamilton. Call


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