Volavrunt (1999)





Director:    Bigas Luna

Starring:    Aitana Snchez-Gijn (Duquesa de Alba), Penlope Cruz (Pepita Tud), Jordi MollB (Godoy), Jorge Perugorra (Francisco Goya), Stefania Sandrelli (Marie Luisa de Parma), Olivier Achard (Grognard), Jean-Marie Juan (Pignatelli), Empar Ferrer (Catalina Barajas), Mara Alonso (Condesa de Chinchn), Zoe Berriata (Prncipe Fernando).

The title Volavrunt comes from the Duchess of Alba's euphemism for her most private parts. Many think that it was the Duchess of Alba who was the model for Goya's La Maja Desnuda (The Nude Maja). Maja meant a sexually free woman. The movie centers around the theme of Goya's womanizing and the death of the Duchess of Alba in 1802. You can't beat the two actresses, Penelope Cruz and Aitana Snchez-Gijn, for beauty.



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.

Warning:  the movie was in Spanish with no subtitles. My Spanish is not that good so I might have made some mistakes, but the general outline is good.

July 1802.

This was an epoch of splendor in Spain. The Bourbons, Carlos IV, Queen Maria Luisa de Parma and her son Prince Ferdinand rule in Spain. The Duchess of Alba is the woman deemed the most beautiful, rich and liberated of the epoch. She was the lover of some of the most influential men in the country. Among them, Manuel de Godoy, Prime Minister of Spain, and the painter Francisco de Goya at the summit of his fame.

Fancy dinner given by the Duchess of Alba. After dinner the Duchess dances for the group. Pepita, once a poor gypsy girl, dances with her as if it was a challenge to the Duchess. The Duchess threatens to imbibe "violeta de cobalto", a very strong poison. Pepita takes the stage away from her by swooning. After the excitement, Goya retires to a private room to sleep. He remembers a time riding in a train of coaches with the Duchess and meeting a religious procession for which they got out of the coach and prayed before the procession's image of the Virgin Mary.

Goya is awakened and told that the Duchess is dying and has asked to see him. Goya sees that the bottle of the "violeta de cobalto" is missing. After speaking with her he examines a glass from which she must have drank the previous evening. It has that same strange color of green as the "violeta de cobalto". The Duchess feels that if she is going to die, she wants to die beautiful and so she has Goya touch up her face.

Godoy is very worried that the gossips will say that he himself was responsible for the death of the Duchess, since he was one of her lovers. Godoy is also worried that he may have been responsible for her death because the poison came from his supply of paints.

Flashback. The Duchess has sex with prime minister Godoy. He then rides with his escort to a village where he sees Pepita, a beautiful gypsy girl, dancing by the fire for an audience. Godoy tries to have sex with her, but she evades him successfully. Godoy next visits the Queen's bed. She pours perfume on him to get rid of the smell of the "others". After his visit with the Queen he returns to Pepita. She slaps him for his unfaithful behavior.

The King and Queen arrive. The Queen talks with Godoy and his new wife, who is a bit plain looking. She whispers to Godoy that she hates his new wife. The Queen then gives the Dutchess of Alba a little grief and then reminds Godoy that he is married. Godoy and Prince Ferdinand have a contest between their two horses and Godoy's horse wins. With a pistol the Prince shoots his own horse in the head.

The Duchess is in great pain from the poison and she falls to the floor.

Back to the present.  An investigation is opened into the causes of the death of the Duchess of Alba. They interview her bedroom servant and a man named Carlos. The maid gets offended when the questioner suggests she might have had something to gain with the death of the Duchess. And Carlos gets angry at the suggestion that there might have been something more than just good friendship between the Duchess and himself.

Flashback. The Duchess tells Godoy and Goya that she wants the two pictures of the Maja. She says that it is obvious that it is she who was the model for the Maja. Godoy asks who said it was her body in the paintings. Later she whispers something to Manuel.

Goya has Pepita model for him in the Maja style, but she is covered around the waist.

Goya tells Godoy that the Duchess committed suicide because of him, but Godoy says that "they" killed her.  Pepita was spying on Godoy because of his unfaithfulness.  She overheard the conversations when the Duchess asked for the two Maja portraits.  Pepita heard the Duchess say that the body in the portraits was hers; heard Godoy tell the Duchess that he only loved her; and noticed that Goya remained silent.  This made Pepita mad at all three: the Duchess, Godoy and Goya.  Godoy thought Crown Prince Ferdinand was spying on him because he found his bottle of smelling salts, but it was really Pepita who had dropped the smelling salts that the Crown Prince had given her when she fainted after dancing with the Duchess at the fancy dinner party. 

Pepita admits to Godoy with Goya in the room that she has been  listening to his conversations.  Godoy becomes very angry with her.  He leaves the room.  Pepita pulls out the bottle of "violeta de cobalte" and returns it to Goya.  Goya is shocked that she is the one who has the poison.  Pepita explains to him that she was very angry at the Duchess for being a competitor for the affection of Godoy; that she had taken the poison from Godoy's supplies; and had placed some of the poison in the wine in the wine glass belonging to the Duchess.  But Pepita had second thoughts and poured the wine in the wine glass into the flower pot standing next to it.  Some of the poison was still left as residue at the bottom of the glass (and this is the residue that Goya found).  She tells Goya that he must believe her.   

Back to the present.  The Queen tells Godoy to bring her the jewelry of the Duchesss and Godoy does so, even taking her beautiful ring.  Godoy examines some of the Duchess's jewelry.  His wife shows up and tells him she hates him.  They get into a terrific verbal fight.  Godoy accuses her of poisoning the Duchess, but she denies it.  Godoy starts to choke her.  Goya and Pepita stop him.       

The Queen is in bed with Godoy admiring her new ring.  She tells Godoy that the ring of the Duchess is the best present she ever got from him. 

At the investigation into the death of the Duchess, the interrogator asks the doctor present at her bedside when she died what caused her death.  The doctor tells him that she had picked up an illness that was an epidemic where she traveled.       

Having lost popular favor, Queen Maria Luisa spent the rest of her days in exile. The Contessa de Chinchon died young and mentally unbalanced. Pepita, now the Contessa of Castillofiel, married Godoy. Goya was accused of painting the Naked Maja painting and he fled to France where he died. The heirs of the Duchess never obtained their legacy.


Good movie.  It was interesting looking into the inner goings on among the rich and powerful in Spain around the year 1802.  I had no idea that Prime Minister Godoy had more power than King Charles IV and that he was the Queen's lover.  Nor did I know that the Duchess of Alba was having sex with some of the most powerful and influential people in Spain, including Godoy and Goya.  It was also interesting that Goya was having sex with the same woman who was having sex with the powerful Spanish prime minister.  The movie was more of a thriller than anything else with lots of different suspects as to who might have poisoned the Duchess of Alba.  And then comes that ending that was a surprise to me.   So I liked it.  The two female leads were nice to watch.  A lot of reviewers complained about the actor portraying Goya, but Goya did not really have much of a part in the movie anyway.  It was the prime minister who had the bigger part. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

Historical Background:

See Goya in Bordeaux (1999) for Historical Background

1762  -- birth of Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo, the future Duchess of Alba. 

1767  -- birth of Manuel de Godoy.  

1785  -- birth of Pepita Turon. 

1788 -- Manuel de Godoy meets the heir to the Spanish throne, who later that year became King Charles IV.

1789 -- Godoy made a colonel.

1791 -- prime minister Floridablanca accused Godoy of having an adulterous relationship with Queen Maria Luisa.

1792 (January) -- prime minister Floridablanca falls from office.

1792 (November) -- prime minister Aranda falls. He is replaced by Godoy.

1792-1797 -- Manuel de Godoy was Prime Minister of Spain. Among the titles he was given were: Duke of Alcudia, Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Captain General and Duke of Sueca, Marquis of Alvarez, and Lord of Soto de Roma. During his first reign, the French Republic invaded Spain.

1795 (July) -- Godoy negotiated the Peace of Basel which restored Spain's frontier. He was referred to as the Prince of Peace.

1796 (August) -- Spain and France sign the Treaty of San Ildefonso requiring Spain to declare war on Great Britain.

1797 -- Godoy worked to get his mistress Pepia Tud the titles of Countess of Castillofiel and Viscountess of Rocafuerte.

1797 -- Queen Maria Louisa arranges a marriage for Godoy so that she could get him away from his mistress Pepita (born circa 1785). The marriage would also be a cover for her own relationship with Godoy. (The chosen bride was Maria Teresa, Charles IV's cousin and the daughter of his exiled and disgraced uncle.) Godoy got a lot of money out of the arrangement, but he still had his mistress and his wife live in the same house.

1797 -- Godoy removed as prime minister due to problems with the French republic and Queen Maria Louisa.

1800 -- Godoy's wife Maria Teresa gave birth to daughter Carlota Luisa.

1801-1808 -- Manuel de Godoy was Prime Minister of Spain for the second time.

1802 -- Napoleon wrote a letter to King Charles IV saying that Godoy was the de facto king of Spain and Maria Louisa's lover. Godoy's staff intercepted it, but Godoy let it go through to the king anyway.

1802  -- death of the Duchess of Alba of tuberculosis and dengue fever.

1805 -- Pepita and Godoy have a son Manuel.

1805 -- at the Battle of Trafalgar the French and Spanish fleets suffer a huge defeat at the hands of British commander Nelson.

1807 -- Pepita and Godoy have another son Luis.

1807 (December)  --  France invades Spain. 

1808 (March)  --  gossip spread that Godoy had sold out Spain to Napoleon and the popular uprising, the Mutiny of Aranjuez, started.  A mob wanted his head but couldn't find him.  Charles had Godoy's property confiscated and then imprisoned.  But all was made moot when the French occupied Aranjuez.  Charles IV abdicated in favor of Napoleon.

Charles, Maria Louisa, Godoy, his daughter Carlota Luisa, his mistress Pepita, and their sons lived in exile for a few years in France.

1812 (July)  --  they moved to Rome. 

1814  --  Spanish King Ferdinand VII would not let them return to Spain.

1815  --  King Ferdinand VII continued to harass Pepita. 

1819  --  Maria Luisa died, followed shortly by King Charles IV. 

1828  --  Godoy's wife Maria Teresa died.

1829  --  Godoy married Pepita.

1832  --  Godoy and Pepita moved to Paris.  They had a tough time making ends meet.   

1833  --  death of King Ferdinand VII. 

1851  --  Godoy died in Paris. 

1869  --  death of Pepita in Madrid. 



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