English Title: Alatriste

Original Title: Alatriste

Country of Origin: Spain

Studio: Estudios Picasso Fábrica de Ficción, Origen, NBC Universal Global Networks España.

Director: Agustín Díaz Yanes

Producer(s): Belén Atienza, Álvaro Augustín, Antonio Cardenal, Íñigo Marco

Screenplay: (based on the novels by Arturo Pérez-Reverte), Agustín Díaz Yanes

Cinematographer: Paco Femenía

Art Director: Benjamín Fernández

Editor: José Salcedo

Runtime: 140 minutes


Language: Spanish

Starring/Cast: Elena Anaya, Viggo Mortensen, Eduardo Noriega, Unax Ugalde

Year: 2006

Volume: Spanish / Portuguese

Captain Diego Alatriste is a brave seventeenth-century soldier in the service of King Felipe IV of Spain. After fighting in Flanders, Alatriste returns to Madrid, where he takes Iñigo de Balboa in his care, after a promise to his dying friend Lope, Iñigo’s father. In Madrid, Luis de Alquézar and Emilio Bocanegra hire Alatriste and Gualterio Malatesta to perform a mysterious assassination. Realizing the intended victims are the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Buckingham, Alatriste lets them escape, becoming involved in the intrigues and betrayals of the corrupt court. Alatriste then returns to the Netherlands, taking part in the surrender of Breda. Between war scenes and shorter sequences in Madrid, the film ends with his death in 1643, in the Battle of Rocroi.

Alatriste (‘Sad-wing’, name of the leading role that makes also reference in Sapnish to the brim of his typical hat) is based on a series of novels by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. As in the books, the film is centred on Captain Diego Alatriste. It is the second most expensive Spanish production ever and brings together Hollywood stars and local directors to tell Spanish (hi)stories. In this sense, it is an example of a new trend in the national film industry. However, the number of Spanish stars (Javier Cámara, Blanca Portillo, Elena Anaya, and Pilar Bardem, just to name a few), both in starring and supporting roles, is also significant. The film makes an unorthodox use of its cast by having an American actor playing a Spanish character (the protagonist, Diego Alatriste, is played by Viggo Mortensen) and a woman playing a man (Blanca Portillo as Fray Emilio Bocanegra).
Although watched by over 3 million in Spain, Alatriste was a critical failure. Reviews have been especially damning about the inclusion of too many episodes from Pérez-Reverte’s five novels, dismissing Alatriste as an often-confusing film that feels too long. But whereas its narrative is fragmented and its editing problematic in terms of fluidity of the storyline, the film’s high-production values stand out. Indeed, the film’s big budget (24,000,000 €) has had a clear impact on its look; as an adventure film, spectacle is one of the key features of Alatriste. This is particularly visible in the scenes in the palace, with dazzling costumes and décors, but also in war scenes, such as the battle of Rocroi, where the number of extras used, as well as the presence of flags, horses, and cannons, are effectively combined with complex camera movements and an epic soundtrack.
Alatriste begins with a clear contextualization, zooming in on a world map and using a voice-over narrator to describe the situation in Flanders in the seventeenth century. While it could be seen as a metaphor for contemporary wars – for the director, the hellish conditions in Flanders for the Spanish army of 1623 can be compared to the position of American soldiers after the 2003 invasion of Iraq – Alatriste’s view of the past is utterly unromantic. Madrid, for instance, is represented as a bleak and shadowy capital, where court plotting and clerical repression set the tone. When in the city, Alatriste is seen drinking with his friends (including the poet Francisco de Quevedo, played by Juan Echanove) or spending time with his lover, the actress María de Castro (Ariadna Gil). Both plot lines – the debauchery portrayed in the taverns, and the fact that this is a forbidden romance (she is married) – underline the decadence of the period represented. Hence, despite ending on a positive note, by highlighting the bravery of the Spanish army, Alatriste is far from celebrating Spain’s Siglo de Oro (Golden Age).
There is an ambiguous line at the end of the movie spoken by Alatriste:  ‘cuenta lo que fuimos’ (‘tell everyone what we were’), that can stress the importance of not forgetting about the past, and about those who fought for its glory – a preoccupation that Díaz Yanes had already expressed in the title of his first (and most successful) film, Nadie hablará de nosotras cuando hayamos muerto/Nobody Will Speak of Us When We're Dead (1995).

Author of this review: Mariana Liz