Honour of the Knights

English Title: Honour of the Knights

Original Title: (Quixotic) Honor de cavalleria

Country of Origin: Spain

Studio: Andergraun Films, Eddie Saeta, Notro Films

Director: Albert Serra

Producer(s): Luis Miñarro, Montse Riola, Albert Serra, Adolfo Blanco

Screenplay: Jimmy Gimferrer, Albert Serra, Montse Triola , (inspired by Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, 1605)

Cinematographer: Christophe Farnarier, Eduard Grau

Art Director: Jimmy Gimferrer

Editor: Ángel Martin

Runtime: 103 minutes


Language: Catalan

Starring/Cast: Lluís Carbo Bullo, Lluís Serrat Massanella

Year: 2006

Volume: Spanish / Portuguese

Honour of the Knights is a free adaptation of Cervante’s universal novel. Far, however, from retelling the most well-known episodes of the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the film gives space to its weakest moments, all of those that were irrelevant to the development of the story. More than active agents, the knight and his faithful shield bearer wander through a narrative empty of adventures.

The first feature-length film by the young Catalan director, Albert Serra, can be styled as one of the most fascinating moments of Spanish cinematography at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Honour of the Knights, which was entered into the Quinzaine des Realisateurs of the Cannes Film Festival, was judged by the prestigious French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma to be one of the top ten major films of 2007. The film, however, had only a brief commercial run and met with scant recognition in Spain.
The radicalism of the film rests on the complex relationship with its text. As said, it is not an adaptation of El Quixote. It does not perpetuate the reiteration of Cervante´s material from one, the literary, medium to the cinematographic. Instead, it interrogates the novel, walking around its edges, looking at it from both the exterior and interior at the same time.
The features that allude to the literary text are obvious from the very beginning. The camera follows a gaunt, grey-bearded old man who takes up his armour and shield and goes to find a short, squat figure that is waiting in repose for him. The link has been established and there is no room for doubt. Don Quixote and his faithful servant, Sancho Panza are the unmistakable protagonists of the narrative. They are as much recognizable in the figurative as well as the thematic: the phlegmatic comic lackey in counterpoint to the restless lord.
However, the detour with respect to the novel also very quickly becomes evident. The Catalan used by the characters is provocative and no less so in the title which, more than in the wanderings of this singular knight, conveys a terrain-vague drawn by the text in its constant dialogue with other texts, such as medieval knights´ tales like Tirant Lo Blanc or Lancelot of the Lake. But also with other innumerable versions and adaptations which end up overwhelming the territory drawn by Cervante´s novel.
More than in the luxuriant mountain landscapes in which the adventurers travel (a topography far removed from the wide plains of ‘la Mancha’), it is in the narrative where the interior/exterior dialectic makes itself most intensely felt. If the deranged old knight and his shield-bearer are the unequivocal protagonists of the story, it is nonetheless true that this story tells of their well-known adventures in an incidental manner. There are no duels with windmills which our knight has confused for dangerous giants, nor are there heroic charges against fearful armies which are actually herds of sheep. Quite the contrary, the action – which is weakened to the limits of recognition – are reabsorbed into the vestiges of a wandering form of the events which do not fit into a cohesive narrative structure. The repeated examples of this insane knight-errant in the literary tale are condensed in the film into the imprecations of an enlightened noble against the sky or in the violent decentralizing of his features on the screen. The lectures of the knight on the golden age of knighthood to the goat herders that he shares meals with in the novel are, here, reduced to a few digressions while the knight and his page relax on the shores of a small lake after having had a refreshing bath.
Honor de Cavalleria is closer to the fascinating exercise of the Quixote by Orson Welles than to the many other versions of this immortal story. The difference with the Welles’s movie – aided by access to digital technology – is that Serra opts for an opposite attitude. He radically strips the image, reducing it to its bare essence and capturing only that which is fleeting and evanescent; a gamble that finds immediate references in film to creators like Robert Bresson, or the materialists Straub and Huillet.

Author of this review: Javier Moral