In September the biggest superproduction in the history of the Spanish cinema will be released: Alatriste. Satisfied and confident, the director Agustín Díaz Yanes defends his work to the last.
CK: Literature and history, two of your passions together in Alatriste. You are pleased, aren't you?
ADY: Well, it's more the history than the literature. But yes, I'm pleased. You seldom get the chance to do something like this here. A lot of films are made based on contemporary novels, but being given the opportunity to make a film about some historical novels set in the XVII century (and Spanish as well) is great, to tell the truth.
CK: Pérez-Reverte has a reputation for being a difficult person. How was your relationship?
ADY: When I was offered to do Alatriste I talked to Reverte. I didn't know whether he wanted to write the script or not. He told me he didn't: "You write the script, if I don't like it I'll tell you". And Arturo just as he is, he sure will tell you. I thought that, since there are five novels, I had to respect the spirit of Alatriste more than anything, so what I did was call Arturo every now and then as I was writing the script. I told him, for example: "I've been thinking about doing this with this character. Are you okay with it?" - because I have, for example, brought some events forward, things that are not in the novels, or joined two characters in one, and he told me: "Very well, go on, go on". And then he read the script and thought it was fantastic. We had a very good relationship. Everything I had heard about him interfering in the films, in my case, wasn't true. He lets you work, and then he gives his opinion, which is much better. He gave me complete freedom.
CK: He has said that the film "is very good" and rates it quite highly. Why do you think he liked it so much?.
ADY: I am very glad. In the beginning we agreed - and I think that's why he's pleased - that I wasn't going to betray the spirit of the novels. And I've respected that: the spirit of Alatriste is totally in the film.
CK: What are the keys of literary adaptation?
ADY: I think that the first thing you must have is a cinematographic text: there are novels that we like very much when we read them but they are not for cinema. My opinion - which isn't mine but it's based on the history of cinema - is that there is a kind of novel of great, great, great literature that is very difficult to put on the screen. And then, there are great texts that you can turn into films because they have a cinematographic essence. What do I call cinematographic essence?. Well, that they have characters. The good thing about Arturo's novels when it comes to turning them into films, especially Alatriste, and besides their literary quality, is the existence of a magnificent central character, and other characters surrounding him that are also great. A classic example is The Godfather: besides Coppola being a genius, Brando's character is very, very good. The fact that you had liked a novel very much or that it has been a best-seller are different things. But that cinematographic essence is fundamental.
CK: Both Nobody Will Speak of Us When We're Dead and No News from God were portrayals of strong women. It seems like, on this occasion, women are giving up the leading role to men...
ADY: Well, it's true that the film has a male central character, and that he's a very special man also, a soldier of the XVII century. But I've managed - I think - to get three very strong feminine characters, because I thought - and I also consulted that with Arturo, and he agreed completely - that Alatriste should have some women characters around him that were as strong as the men. But yes, working with many more actors than actresses has been a change.
CK: You have gone from the harsh urban chronicles with a social approach to the "period" cinema. Quite a change, isn't it?
ADY: Not so much. I had a professor at college who used to say that the Madrid of the XVII century was very similar to the Madrid of XX c., or the New York of the XX c.: a lively, hard, brutal city. In the film you can see the city, and its hostility, and the misery...I think it's very realistic. The Madrid of Alatriste is a "sh*t" (laughs). Deep down, it isn't so different from the other films I've done...
CK: 24 million Euros, 12 weeks of shooting, an international cast, more than 7000 extras and a huge crew... Have you felt "dizzy"? Did you have a lot of pressure?
ADY: Well, no. When these things are asked, everybody thinks about the American cinema, where the pressure is really brutal. In that regard Spain is fantastic: the pressure is completely different. Here the director is the boss and everything evolves around him when the shooting starts; then, you can be right or wrong, but you are the one in charge. You have the pressure you put yourself, and my only pressures were to make the film with the money that the producers gave me and in the scheduled time. What I've certainly felt was a big personal pressure: being in charge of so many people, handling so many things at the same time...but the producers have trusted me completely. I agree with the Mono Burgos (tr. note: famous football goalkeeper): pressure...pressure is what those who work down a mine have.
CK: Then, there is no big difference between shooting with tight budgets and taking charge of a superproduction like this...
ADY: Well, there is a difference...The big difference is the organization, because of the size. I've done this one like my other two films, except that I prepared the other ones in two or three months and this one took me one year. Everything has to be under control, perfect before starting (to film). And then you arrive at the shooting and you meet the actors you put in front of the camera... The most important thing is to choose well the people in charge of every section: wardrobe, swords, sets, etc. Everything has to be very well coordinated, because if that doesn't happen, you can suffer a phenomenal heavy blow.
CK: Alatriste is born with a clear international ambition. What expectations do you have? What's the limit of the film?
ADY: In that regard I'm quite prudent: I don't like to talk about whether the audience is going to see a film or not before it's released. I'm sure that the audience has decided whether to go to see a film or not before it starts to be filmed: in that regard I'm fatalistic. Nobody knows how a movie is until it's released, however, there are people that have already decided not to see it beforehand; who knows why... I think that Alatriste is going to work well both in Spain and abroad; I'm confident. The limit? I have no idea. It's not my job to know that either.
CK: And the critics?
ADY: I don't know whether the critics will speak well or badly of it, but I think the film is good and, therefore, I expect to get good reviews.
CK: What did Viggo Mortensen provide the film with?
ADY: Everything; absolutely everything. In Spain, because of the tradition of our cinema, we don't have action heroes, and Viggo combines an impressive physique (that "exact image of the weary hero" that Arturo wanted) with the fact of being a spectacular actor of action (films). He's an extraordinary actor in dialogues, in everything...he has that combination that it's so difficult to find here. Viggo has been the vital centre of the film. The title of the movie is Alatriste!!. His experience, his help and his advice have also been very important.
CK: And with the consent of Victoria Abril and Penélope Cruz, what's the difference in working with the big stars of international productions?
ADY: None, although Viggo represents that "other Hollywood". Some people I know who have worked with some big stars haven't spoken well of them at all, but I have to admit that, although at first I was a bit worried, it's very easy to work with him. Generally, until you start to shoot, everybody is very polite and very friendly. But Viggo is very nice before, during and after shooting. It's almost impossible to think of him as a Hollywood star, even though he is. He's meticulous, very professional, and he has that knowledge of cinema "from the inside", a bit like Victoria Abril. Besides being actors they are scriptwriters, editors, photographers...they know all that, indeed.
CK: Do you think that Alatriste is going to "open the season" of the superproductions in Spain?
ADY: It should; I think that's an unfinished business. The Spanish cinema, I've already said that on other occasions - and someone is going to get mad at me - is too monothematic. Comparing our cinema with the American industry is a mistake: it's another world. But if we compare ourselves with the French industry - which would be what we should tend to approach, for example, they have social films, bourgeois comedy, cinema for the youth, superproductions. One of the problems, now that there is so much talk of the audience not going to the cinema to see Spanish films, is that, in the last ten years, we have become very monothematic. There is no diversity, and this way doesn't lead us anywhere.