THAT CAPTAIN ALATRISTE
By Arturo Pérez-Reverte
XLSemanal, 20 August 2006
Well, I've already seen the film. After the credits and all that, the lights of the small cinema came on and I remained hung on to the last images: the old and battered Tercio of loyal Spanish infantry - what else could they do? There was no other place to go - forsaken by their homeland, their King and their God, waiting for the last charge of the French cavalry, in Rocroi, the 19th of May 1643. And the request from the veteran Aragonese arquebusier Sebastián Copons to the young Íñigo Balboa: "Tell what we were". Twenty years of our History through the life of Diego Alatriste, soldier and mercenary swordsman. Twenty years of disgraceful kings, of corrupt ministers and cocky fanatical priests, of despicable people and inquisitorial bonfires, of cruelty and blood, of Spain, in short; but also twenty years of desperate courage, of twisted personal dignity - the peculiar ethics of murderers - in a world that is falling apart around them, shown in the sad look and the lucid words of the poet Francisco de Quevedo, played with a touching, memorable perfection by the actor Juan Echanove.
I cannot give an objective opinion about Alatriste. Although during its long gestation and shooting I tried as much as I could not to get involved, I'm too close to all of it to see it in a cold way. It's true that I like some things more and I like other things less; and that for ten critical minutes - at least for me, the author in the end - of the first third of the film I stirred anxiously in my seat. But apart from that, I must say that those malicious cynics and pen-pushers who foresaw an imperial song of heroic chauvinistic Spaniards and rancid swashbuckling folklore are going to swallow their bile in litres. There's nothing more respectful with the original texts. Nothing more straightforward, fascinating and terrible than the mirror that, through Viggo Mortensen's masterly performance - he looks impressive on the screen, that son of a bitch - is put before our eyes during the two hours and a quarter that the film lasts. An accurate portrayal, in detail, I can tell you, faithful to the spirit of the character that it's inspired by: straightforward, with no gentle ways, full of incidents and stabbings, of course; but also full of extreme bitterness and lucidity. Told in a wealth of such beautiful images that sometimes it looks like a succession of paintings. Animated paintings by Velázquez or Ribera.
And the ending, gadzooks! I'm not going to tell you that, because you would hate me for the rest of your lives. But besides the spectacular beginning, the impeccable development and the actors' extraordinary performances - my!, how they are, all of them: Unax, Elena, Ariadna, Eduard, Cámara, Blanca, Pilar, Noriega... - the ending, or rather the entire last hour leaves the audience definitely breathless, captured by the screen, while the last stretch of the hero's life and the lives of his comrades, from the trenches of Breda to the plain of Rocroi, is analysed and fixed in the viewer's retina and memory. Everything is seen and sounds like a gunshot in the face; like a jolt that leaves you unsettled, your spirit in suspension, stuck to your seat, aware that before your eyes it has been shown, in an implacable way, the eternal tragedy of your lineage. The serene image of Captain Alatriste listening to the approaching murmur of the enemy cavalry, the tragic travel of the camera that follows Íñigo Balboa - "senior soldiers ahead, new soldiers behind" - when he moves back in the ranks to take charge of the old and torn flag, his gloomy and lucid expression - gloomy with pure lucidity - and all that perfect culmination to the splendid journey that Agustín Díaz Yanes has done through the five Alatriste novels, constitute the faithful, tragic, moving portrayal of the Spain of old and the Spain of all times. An unhappy, fierce Spain, sometimes heroic, often miserable, where it's easy to recognize oneself. To recognize each other.
Perhaps that's why, after the private screening was finished the lights came on, and with a lump in my throat I looked around, I saw that some of the actors of the film who were on the contiguous seats - I'm not telling any names, let every one of them confess if they want to - remained still on their seats, crying their eyes out. Crying like babies because of their characters, because of the story. Because of the beautiful, dramatic ending. And also because no one had ever done, so far, a film like that of this wretched and damned Spain. As Captain Alatriste himself would say, in spite of God, and in spite of anyone.