23 December 2001 | khatcher-2
luxurious and luxuriant fetishness pervades, amid inaccurate historical background
Bigas Luna is not exactly the easiest of Spanish directors with whom to come to terms. His stories tend to wade neck-deep in sophismic quagmires, aided and abetted by insolently visual splendours, which, however, for the intelligent viewer will not succeed in covering up certain lackings which place this director a long way away from Buñuel, or even Saura if you push me. After having been besieged throughout his `La Camarera del Titanic' which left me neither hot nor cold and wondering where the supposed story went under the overlay of irritating sumptuousness, I ventured into watching `Volavérunt' more from my personal interest in the famed Spanish artist Francisco Goya, and to see how Aitana Sánchez-Gijón and Penélope Cruz - who are intimate friends - would bear up, rather than any attraction Bigas Luna might have.
The story revolves around Goya's womanising and the mysterious death of the Duchess of Alba at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th Centuries, at a time when Madrid was wobbling through a difficult time and setting the scene for the following Prim vs Crown uprising. The title of the film comes from the Duchess of Alba's euphemism for her most private parts, supposedly revealed in the famous painting `La Maja Desnuda' but which in fact is another woman's body - possibly Pepita Tudó (Penélope Cruz). `Las Majas' were originally called `las gitanas' (gypsy women), but in those days `maja' meant a liberal woman who enjoyed her sexuality and sensuality.
The sets are superb, at least as good as any other period piece films I have ever seen; Franca Squarciapino's costumes are extravagantly magnificent; Asturian courtyards, heraldic-emblazoned palaces and luxury carriages pass by in front of your eyes. But the story is stulted, overwhelmed perhaps by such an immense visual banquet.
Jordi Mollà played an unconvincing Godoy; you should see him in `La Buena Estrella' (qv). And as for our two lovely actresses, I can only opine that Carlos Boyero in his insolent and infinitely unrefined article in `El Mundo' when this film was shown at the San Sebastián film festival, was right at least in saying that they are superbly beautiful, but they too need rôles which can show they are good actresses. Amen: in `Volavérunt' they were not able to show anything - apart from a fair amount of sexuality.
At a grand gala dinner held in the midst of so many conspirations in and out of the royal palace, a fascinating piece of music can be heard: it is the last movement of `El Retrato de Madrid' (Portrait of Madrid) by the Italian composer Luigi Boccherini who for many years was the Spanish Court's official maestro da capela; this piece was composed some years later than the film's story.