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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
Brunswick, 732-932-8482. Friday to Sunday, February 23 to 25.
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:
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.
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.
Greek myth of the musician Orpheus set to a samba and hip-hop score,
Friday to Sunday, March 23 to 25.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
Shopping Village, will begin a Homeopathy Study Group on Tuesday,
February 27, from 7 p.m. Call Mary Vitullo, 609-333-0721.
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.
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
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.
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.
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, www.quailridge.com.
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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