The period setting, the high-art gloss, the fascination with historical bombast and the ghoulish depths people to which proud people can sink -- all of these are things Goya's Ghosts has in common with the rest of the Milos Forman filmography. What it's lacking is a confident narrative or, for that matter, a sturdy script skeleton which the director can lean on. In surer hands, what was intended as ambitious -- to put the great Spanish artist Francisco Goya in the film's title and in a prominent position in the film's opening act, but then to draw away from, and ultimately unmoor him from the story completely -- might have actually succeeded, but here it just comes across as odd and indicative of a serious lack of directorial focus. I won't be the one to say that the powers of 75 year-old Forman have decayed -- he's so unprolific that it's hard to see any kind of career-parabola, anyway -- but on the evidence of this film, he should probably make it a priority to finish out his career with the strongest possible writing collaborators.
Javier Bardem embodies one of Forman's favorite fool-archetypes here: the true believer who is double-blind in thinking that the system he loves loves him back and that his earnestness in upholding it will produce rewards down the road. Bardem plays Brother Lorenzo, a Catholic priest who argues passionately for the grisly torture of the Inquisition in the opening scene, as the other priests sit quietly and imbibe his passionate commitment to the cause instead of daring to debate any of his points. It's only later, when an unlikely turn of events sees him having dinner in the home of a man suspected of being a "Judiazier" that he's asked to give any kind of thoughtful defense to his beliefs. 'How could there be any value in a confession given under extreme physical torture?,' Brother Lorenzo is asked, to which he replies that God grants the innocent the ability to withstand the torture and not utter false statements, but allows the guilty to perjure themselves. A few minutes later, he's singing a completely different tune.