On most Monday nights, you can see a European (normally German) movie, not normally shown in this country, at the Goethe Institute in Washington. The cost is $4. It’s a great bargain.
This fall, the emphasis seems to be on biopics. Last night, the movie was Goya, a 1971 film from East Germany, directed by Konrad Wolf, and starring Lithuanian actor Donatas Banionis. The films was based on a novel by Lion Feuchtwangler, German-Jewish author, published in 1951. It told the story of Goya from his rise to the favorite court painter of the Spanish royal family, to his conversion from royal portrait artist to the radical portrayer of the victims of the Napoleanic War and the Catholic Inquisition. While some of the events may not be totally factual (such as the relationship between the Duchess of Alba and Goya’s “Naked Maja” and “Clothed Maja”), and while any East German movie can be seen as containing a degree of propoganda (anti-royalty; anti-church), the movie keeps your attention throughout its 2+ hours.
I assume that that the film was made in Spain (although the ability of a Communist German film company to work in fascist Franco Spain is questionable, I guess), and the scenery (rural, small town, Escorial) is magnificent. One of the most interesting aspects of the film, however, is in the casting. If you look at a self-portrait by Goya and then look at Banionis, you see extraordinary resemblence. Similarly, one of the most famouns of Goya’s royal oil paintings is the painting of the King Carlos IV of Spain and his family, including his wife Maria Louisa, daughter of the Duke of Parma and referred to by the proud Duchess of Alba as “the Italian”. It is a distinctive portrait in that it did not “airbrush” the subjects, and brought a form of artistic realism to royal portraitry. There are twelve family members in the painting, and the actors looked like each of them. Particularly fascinating was the resemblence of the woman who portrayed Queen Maria Louisa to the woman painted by Goya. And, of course, the Duchess of Alba did not have to look like the Naked Maja, as Goya presumably hid the identity of whomever his model was.
This is a well reputed movie, not shown in this country until recently.