Goya in Bordeaux

Spain/Italy 1999

Reviewed by Paul Julian Smith


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Bordeaux, 1828. The 82-year-old Spanish artist Francisco de Goya is living in exile. His younger lover Leocadia and her daughter Rosarito, an aspiring artist, take care of him in his final illness; Goya himself is working on lithographs and socialising with fellow radical exiles. Over the course of the last months of his life, Goya recounts his life story to Rosarito. He recalls his entrance into the glittering Madrid court of the Bourbons, the illness that led to his early deafness, his love affair with the Duchess of Alba, who dies poisoned by conspirators, the French invasion of Spain and the Peninsular War. Meanwhile his major works, including his portraits for Charles III's court, the caprichos series of etchings, the Black paintings, and the Disasters of War series, are brought to life in on-screen tableaux. Finally Goya dies; his body is discovered by Rosarito.


Time has not been kind to Spanish director Carlos Saura. Spain's greatest film-maker during the final years of Franco's rule and the country's transition to democracy and the auteur of such oblique and resonant psychological dramas as Cría cuervos (1975), Saura was laid low in the 80s by the costly fiasco of his historical epic EI Dorado. More recently, he made Taxi (1996), a liberal-minded but routine thriller about neo-Nazi gangs in Madrid which showed little sign of his personal style, while his 1998 film Tango prompted Spaniards to ask whether he had progressed since his earlier dance tragedy Carmen (1983). Goya in Bordeaux, whose release in Spain inadvertently coincided with Volaverunt, Bigas Luna's lavish biopic of the artist, combines elements from Taxi and Tango. Saura, screenwriter as well as director, stresses the liberal credentials of his Enlightenment hero, who was fiercely opposed to tyranny; this political commentary is accompanied by an abstract and theatrical mise en scène whereby Goya's works are brought to life in startling tableaux vivants, a visual style familiar from the director's dance films.

It's an ambitious undertaking, especially given that the Spanish film industry is now dominated by coarse post-Almodóvar comedies, and the contrast between the naturalism of the historical drama and the stylisation of the aesthetic performance is sometimes jarring. Shot in the studio, with sliding screens on which the artist's works are projected, Goya in Bordeaux often evokes a fluid cinematic space analogous to the free-floating world of the artistic imagination. The expressionist lighting and colour of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Taxi and Tango) produce powerful graphic effects. For example, in the credit sequence the camera slowly tracks over sodden black earth and tilts up to a blood-red hanging carcass, whose entrails morph into the dying Goya's head. Images are often dense and multilayered: in one extended travelling shot the old Goya walks in front of a translucent scrim of prints from his caprichos series while the young Goya shadows his movements behind; it's an impressive sequence which aptly recreates the simultaneity of artistic experience.

But the problem with Goya in Bordeaux is that this visual dimension is more eloquent than the verbal element. Saura's dialogue is clunky, even clichéd. Such lines as "The spiral is like life," "Deafness left me isolated" and even "This will be a masterpiece" would not be out of place in a Hollywood biopic from an earlier era. Audiences, even in Spain, need to be reminded of the historical ironies of Goya's life, such as his early admiration of France which was later to invade Spain so brutally. But the presentation of these complexities is only fitfully integrated into the narrative. Moreover, the flashback format leads to longueurs and repetitions, leaving the viewer as frustrated and bewildered as the young girl to whom Goya recites his life story. The absence of narrative drive and characterisation (Maribel Verdú's Duchess of Alba, Goya's true love, is a cipher) makes the experience of watching the film akin to leafing through a de luxe volume of illustrations: these are visually sumptuous, often ravishing images but they fail to connect with each other or the spectator.

This is unfortunate because there is so much to like about Goya in Bordeaux. The shifting and shimmering mise en scène, based on montages, lighting effects and transparent panels, is an impressively realised collaboration between the director, cinematographer and art director (Pierre Louis Thévenet, best known for Almodóvar's High Heels). And the imagery never subsides into the clichéd Goya-esque. Catalan physical theatre group La Fura dels Baus, known for their visceral performance pieces, are ideally suited to act out the graphic sequence based on Goya's Disasters of War print series. José Coronado, now best known in Spain as the lead in top-rated television drama Periodistas, is assured as the young artist. Francisco Rabal, the fresh-faced señorito of Buñuel's Viridiana (1961), has long since become a grizzled veteran, his crown of white hair backlit here like a halo. Rabal performs with matchless pathos as the dying genius, even attempting some perilously dignified dance steps. But surely the hidden story of Goya in Bordeaux is that of Saura himself: a once brilliant and fashionable artist who is now out of favour in his own country.


Carlos Saura
Andrés Vicente Gómez
Carlos Saura
Director of Photography
Vittorio Storaro
Julia Juaniz
Art Director
Pierre Louis Thévenet
Music/Music Director
Roque Baños
©Lolafilms, S.A.
Production Companies
An Andrés Vicente Gómez production for Lolafilms, S.A. in co-production with
Italian International Film (Rome)
In collaboration with RAI - RadioTelevisione Italiana
With the participation of Vía Digital & TVE
Fulvio Lucisano
Production Supervisor
Javier Montero
Production Co-ordinator
Juan Campos
Production Manager
Carmen Martínez
Unit Manager
Papick Lozano
Assistant Directors
Carlos Saura Medrano
Susana Gonzalez
Mercedes Coll
Vicente Vieitez
Script Supervisor
Margarita Fernández
Italian Version Dialogue
Luigi Scattini
2nd Camera Operators
Julio Madurga
Fabio Zamarion
Digital Effects
Fabrizio Storaro
Special Effects
Reyes Abades Efectos Especiales
Special Effects Technician
Ángel Alonso
Set Decorator
Luis Ramirez
Costume Designer
Pedro Moreno
Pilar Tavera
José Quetglas
Susana Sánchez
Key Stylist:
Blanca Sánchez
Merche Guillot
Studio 4
Music Performed by
OSM - Orquestra Sinfónica de Madrid
With the collaboration of
Coro Goya
Musical Themes Adapted/ Arranged by
Roque Baños
Music Recordist/Mixer
José Vinader
Music Consultant
Roque Baños
"Fandango" del Quinteto op. 37", "Largo" del Quinteto op. 2" - Bellas Artes; "No hay que decirle el primor" - Axivil Castizo; "Nocturno - para Cello";
"Tambourine - piano";
"Minueto - op. 13 No. 5"
Matilde Coral
Direct Sound
Carlos Faruolo
Sound Re-recordings
Alfonso Pino
Alfonso Raposo
Jaime Fernández
Sound Effects
Luis Castro
Francisco Rabal
Francisco de Goya
José Coronado
Goya as a young man
Maribel Verdú
Duchess of Alba
Eulalia Ramón
Dafné Fernández
Rosarito, Leocadia's daughter
Emilio Gutiérrez Caba
José de la Cruz
Joaquín Climent
Manuel de Blas
Carlos Hipólito
Juan Valdés
Pedro Azorín
Braulio Poe
Joan Valles
Cristina Espinosa
Pepita Tudó
Paco Catalá
Saturnino García
priest/San Antonio
José María Pou
Franco Di Francescantonio
doctor in Andalucía
José Antonio
dancer Duke de Osuna
Mario de Candia
La Fura dels Baus
Los desastres de la Guerra
Concha Leza
woman in Andalucía
Jaime Losada
Aihnoa Suarez
Rosarito, aged 6
José Reche
murdered corpse
José Sainz
guilty gravedigger
Demetrio Julian
San Antonio's father
Stephane Salom
young French man
Roberto Arcilla
chubby French man
Lorena Pellarini
French woman
Azucena de la Fuente
Josefina Bayeu
Bartolomé Moreno
Francisco Jesús Santillana
José Luis Chavarría
Luis Llamas
Natalie Pinot
piano teacher
Olivier D'Belloch
Gaulon's assistant
Borja Elgea
Goya's friend
Vicente Moraleda
Goya double
Downtown Pictures/
Mainline Pictures
9,374 feet
104 minutes 10 seconds
Dolby Digital
In Colour
2:1 [Univision]
Spanish theatrical title
Goya en Burdeos
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011