Spain 17th century.Diego Alatriste, brave and heroic soldier, is fighting under his King's army in the Flandes region. His best mate, Balboa, falls in a trap and near to die ask to Diego, as his last desire, to looking after his son Inigo and grow him as a soldier. Alatriste has to come back to Madrid. Written by
Firstly, I must say I haven't read the Alatriste books, so my comments are not based at all in the classic 'book into film' translation disappointment.
As a trained professional filmmaker my opinions can't be and are not based in personal taste; they actually are not opinion, but fact analysis: This film, which I really, really expected to be a very good one, specially after watching the cinema trailer (which is really good, something exceptional, as Spanish trailers go), got me shocked when I saw it on its premiere day in Spain: It is really, really bad. Why am I saying this? I'll summarize it within the supplied word allowance: The script and direction (from a technical point of view) is just plain bad storytelling. The film being just a succession of events loosely related, like scattered paintbrush strokes which just give a vague impression of a whole when seen in its entirety from a distance (too many books to condense into a single film?); and mostly poorly covered, with far too many close shots and close-ups (some of them really painful to watch) and an acute scarcity of wide coverage, in part probably due to lack of big enough period locations and sets (a not big enough budget???), and in general Diaz-Yanes shows a constant clumsiness in terms of telling through a meaningful succession of shots; apparently more interested in portraying period scenarios in a painterly manner (mostly a là Velazquez) than in actually telling a story.
Another example of this is the scene in which the interior of a Spanish galley is shown just to tell us the character played by Unax Ugalde is to be released from his chained rowing penalty. An incredibly expensive scene which adds nothing to the film but a nice-looking moving postcard.
The 10,000 extras who worked in the film were not used very wisely. While there were far too many in some Madrid street scenes, both the Breda scenes and the long shots, specially in the Spainish side coverage of the battle of Rocroi scenes showed a ludicrously small amount of extras - casualties included (they could have even multiplied digitally the number, but no - ???!).
Most of the cast is both not very good but quite famous, a fact sadly usual in Spain; but to be fair, both a good deal of their dialogue and scenes and their direction were also quite bad, something which is a real handicap, kind of 'Mission: Impossible'. But not all of them rated so low: Javier Cámara (in the role of the Count-Duke of Olivares) was not too bad, even better was Juan Echanove, who plays the role of writer Francisco de Quevedo, and specially Eduard Fernández's performance was a fine one. Viggo Mortensen's is good as well, but his effort at adapting his Spanish accent with a harsh voice does not quite work and in some places his forced speech works against a proper intonation.
The editing of the film is just plain rubbish. The story simply doesn't flow; the scenes just bump one against the previous. Though I have the suspicion it is probably about the best any editor could have made out of the material supplied and also that he probably had to follow wrong directions and clean out loads of out-of-focus shots, of which nevertheless the final cut is still well supplied. All that would exonerate the editor. You just can't cut into the film what you don't have available.
Regarding the cinematography, leaving aside the usual corrected clearly underexposed shots (which an untrained eye can't detect as such), it is a mix of very good work and wrong choices: The lighting in the night battle scenes is just too clichéd in its intense blue-hued over-lit lighting. The general dark shadowy moody style was appropriate in most scenes, but in others it is just excessive. And then, the tavern scenes are far too bright when they naturally asked for a dim atmosphere.
The film's best asset is undoubtedly its art direction. A first class work with little to object if at all.
But disappointment is not the worst the film raises. The saddest thing is that if the film fails at the box-office it will work against future efforts by other filmmakers in getting the industry to back ambitious high budget projects and thus it would have helped the Spanish film industry to remain at the low level in which it keeps stagnated.
In the other hand, if all the hype surrounding the film and the unusually high promotion it's been given, together with the almost sure success the film will have at the next Goya Awards (the Spanish Academy Awards), results in a big box-office success; as quality is never what drives the interest in film investment, it could lead, paradoxically, to a positive change in the Spanish film industry.
Let's hope it works for the best.
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