The Inquisition in Spain: Expected and Even Hailed (movie review)

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“Goya’s Ghosts,” the new feature from the director Milos Forman (“Amadeus,” “Man on the Moon”), is an unwieldy mix of political satire and lavish period soap opera. Set in 18th-century Spain, and covering the last phase of the Inquisition and Napoleon’s occupation, it resembles the Oscar-baiting epics that Miramax used to release: white elephants like “Chocolat” and “The Cider House Rules” that mixed art-house swagger, Hollywood glitz and shout-outs to liberal common wisdom.

The tale begins with Spanish church elders condemning etchings by Goya that depict the torture of dissidents and heretics. “These images show us the true face of our country,” frets Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem), a quasiliberal monk who has asked Goya (Stellan Skarsgard) to paint his portrait, but also exhorts the Roman Catholic Church to fortify the Inquisition and purify the country.

Mr. Forman and his co-writer, Jean-Claude Carrière (once a frequent collaborator with Luis Buñuel), depict Goya as an artist trying to balance the need to make a living against the obligation to document atrocities committed in the name of God and war. (When Napoleon invades Spain in the film’s second half, Goya again becomes a witness to history.)

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