© Estudios Picasso / Origen Producciones.
Alatriste is a vigorous look at a time filled with light and shadow, the final times of an empire exhausted from endless wars. The same Spain in which Quevedo and Góngora wrote their verses, Velázquez painted his paintings and Lope de Vega premiered his comedies, in the middle of a court dominated by corruption and intrigue, manipulated in his own way by the Count-Duke of Olivares, supported by the Inquisition.
A film deeply universal and, at the same time, very Spanish in its theme, its literary sources and its magnificient visual aesthetic, very far away from the too plentiful Anglo-Saxon topics.
The young and bold director Agustín Díaz Yanes, reaches to equilibrate the necessary epic contents of the script with an intimate background, the spectacle of adventure films, with the emotional development of its charismatic main character, played by a very great Viggo Mortensen, who speaks a very slow Castillian, with a hoarse accent, which the character asked for. Through his emblematic figure, both the novel and the film, depict the courage of soldiers that don't know any other kind of life, subdued by the arbitrary decisions of inept kings and corrupt rulers, forced to undertake impossible adventures and that introduce some brilliant notes about topics such as honour and loyalty.
Because of the fact that the script joins 5 books about the popular literary character, the film is sketched in snippets, as if they were frames independent one from each other but, at the same time, intimately connected. This ellipsis can puzzle the less cautious audience, or the prejudiced ones who only know one way to tell a story.
In the attempt to cover the introduction of all the characters the plot can be a bit disconcerting and fast at the beginning, with subplots that sometimes go in a confusing or too quick manner. Nevertheless, as it is not a Hollywood superproduction, where the budget allows film trilogies with all the resources, it's really a commendable work by the director to have kept a continuity in the essential spirit of the film, with the discontinuous narrative flow.
As well as the unforgettable beauty of some of the scenes and shots, the film is great for its ethical and aesthetic depth. It's a very mature, honest and black film which does not get caught up by easy visual forms or historic model set ups, which not a lot of films can do because of being Spanish as well as universal.
There's sobriety, dramaticism and action, focused in epic culminating moments at the battle of Rocroi, that shine in this production ahead of the multimillionaire battles from Oliver Stone's Alexander.
The scene that opens the film (a night attack in which the Spaniards were experts) or the fight in Breda, are harsh war sequences and with lots of dramatic tension, less aesthetic but more realistic than other similar sequences, in films as Kingdom Of Heaven by Ridley Scott, that seem too cold in comparison.
Alatriste is a whole set of brushstrokes, touched with austerity and grandeur, with overwhelming emotion. Areas travelled with a direct and low camera show a mucky and crowded Madrid, the cold imperial architecture, the hideous trenches and the historic landscapes that remind us of the Spanish painters of the XVIIth century, as in the reconstruction of the famous Breda surrender painted by Velázquez.
With grandeur, the soundtrack maintains and accompanies, putting an unforgettable stamp on the closing, that declares itself as haughty, pessimistic, resigned and worthy as a Greek tragedy.