Alatriste - A Review

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Here is a historical film that avoids the theatrics and flat aesthetics that usually occur in Spanish movies when directors take on this genre. Electing to mould himself upon the French instead of the Yankees (thus remaining true to Arturo Perez-Reverte's Dumasian inclinations) Agusti­n Di­az Yanes exerts himself to ensure that Alatriste exudes not only spectacle, but also realism. Epic battles, yet also lyricism. Adventure and excitement, but also twilight drama. Closer in feel to Queen Margot de Patrice Chareau (a French film based on Alexandre Dumas' novel) than to a typical swashbuckling drama, the film's innately European aura is a credit to Diaz Yanes, as is his ability to artfully and seamlessly integrate the pallets of Velazquez, Ribera or Zurbarán into the action of the movie. If he has taken any cues from American cinema, it has been from the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese or Oliver Stone, all masters who have made a genuine artform of studying and depicting violence. Thus, his Flanders War becomes a lucid reflection on war a la Vietnam, with filthy and realistic skirmishes and ambushes in foul swamps and trenches.

It may be that not everybody is convinced by the director's choice to use all five Alatriste novels in this one movie, but this writer prefers the technique that has been employed, with the film as an all-inclusive entity in and of itself, rather than acting merely as a forerunner to a series of sequels. And if the first part of the movie suffers from a certain confusion of characters and events, the final hour is submerged in tragedy and adventure of a calibre that can be compared to Peckinpah or Sergio Leone (director of Once Upon A Time in America), a brilliant sort of Once upon a time in Spain. As the sun sets on the Spanish empire, Alatriste sets an elegiac, majestic rhythm. The duels are violent and crude. The characters are tired and sombre, led by Mortensen, whose role could not have been played by any other actor. All leading up to an intrepid finale, where Yanes successfully employs a carefully choreographed, sacrificial pasodoble on the battlefield that, in the hands of another director, could have ended up looking ridiculous.

And so concludes a courageous, epic Spanish adventure, and an undertaking which should mark the end of an era in Spanish cinema that has been far too filled with low-budget film adaptations and Z movies (films with quality standards far below those of B-movies). But it's not enough to leave our flag on the fields of Flanders, we have to make sure it remains standing.

For movie fans who prefer their adventures flavoured with authenticity.

The best part: The aura of decline that pervades the movie as twilight descends on the once-great Spanish empire.

The worst part: A somewhat confused beginning.

Rating ****
Last edited: 4 December 2006 15:50:24
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