"That infamous period was called the Golden Century, but we are the ones who lived and endured that time, and we can say that we have seen very little gold, and not much more silver, too. Useless sacrifices, strong failures, bad life, corruption, poverty and very little fairness, we have got a lot of these things, instead...."
Arturo Perez-Reverte writes like this: he is the author of the novel Captain Alatriste, which the epic and interesting movie Alatriste by Agustin Diaz Yanes comes from. The movie tells the story of the Spain of Philip IV, the young and unqualified king of a kingdom that was too large, and his favourite Count-Duke de Olivares, the dissolute and corrupt man who brought the country falling down because of his insane foreign politics. The story is seen through the eyes of a quiet and valiant soldier, Diego Alatriste (an excellent Viggo Mortensen) who fights hopeless wars in icy Flanders in the service of his king. Great battles, sword duels, cannons, horses, galleons, and always the bright light of Velazquez are the background of this, finally dying, empire, but it is also where poets like Quevedo and Gongora and playwrights like Lope de Vega excel.
The movie, filmed in 15 weeks and costing a large sum, has got a special mention at the Toronto Film Festival. It was released in Spain last month with favourable success, especially at the box office, where it has collected more than 16 million Euros from 3 million viewers.
It is the first blockbuster in Spanish cinema, but the director Yanes, who we met today after the screening at the Rome Film Festival, together with Viggo Mortensen, Eduardo Noriega, Ariadna Gil, Enrico Lo Verso and Teresa Cavina, one of the Festival art directors, is confident that "Alatriste is more based on feelings than on action, and the movie, which is nothing compared to the American mega-productions (as it is much less expensive), can be considered, if it's successful, a trial of what we can achieve."
How was it shooting such a large movie?
ADY: Well, not exactly a piece of cake, because in Spain there isn't a tradition for this kind of movie, but we have some striking landscapes. We shot everything in Andalusia, and we were lucky to have Mortensen with us, in fact he is the only one who could have embodied Alatriste's soul.
And this wonderful painting feeling which permeates the whole movie?
ADY: It is very important. To represent the 17th century in Spain, we needed a special colour, a different light. And this was well known by the director of photography, Paco Femenia.
We went many times to the Prado Museum, in order to read up and see Velazquez, Caravaggio and the whole painting from that century. We got the light, we got the colour, the problem was depicting it at its best, but for this there was our wizard Femenia.
It is curious seeing Blanca Portillo portraying the great inquisitor, how did that come into your mind?
ADY: Because the inquisitor actually was a woman. The casting director, Luis San Narciso, indicated Blanca Portillo and it was successful, Blanca is indeed amazing as the great inquisitor. She is really bald, only with a little hint of fringe. To shave it off was her own idea, and so it is also her own success..."
A real surprise is Viggo Mortensen, who begins speaking in our language with a good discourse and without any accent.
VM: I want to speak Italian because I'm in Rome. I'm very proud to represent the Spanish cinema here, because Alatriste is a very good example of what Spanish cinema can give today. Agustin Diaz Yanes has made a classic movie which will be remembered for a long time, and I myself will remember it for the nice friendships I made on the set.
How come your Italian is so flawless?
VM: Because I spent many years in Argentina, where the Italian culture is deep-rooted, so I spoke Italian and Spanish fluently, in fact I shot the whole movie acting in Castilian. Moreover, ten years ago I even worked in Rome, and I have to admit that I deeply love the musicality of your language..."