22 million Euros, more than 4 months of filming, 10,000 extras and a star like Viggo Mortensen. Arturo Perez-Reverte’s anti-hero adaptation has given us the biggest Spanish-cinema project. Alatriste now lands in Mexico after alluring more than 3 million viewers in Spain.

“He wasn’t the most honest man, nor the most compassionate, but he was a brave man”, with these words writer Arturo Perez-Reverte opens more than a decade ago the Captain Alatriste saga, an authentic literary phenomenon in the Spanish speaking world with his just released sixth book, Corsarios de Levante (Levante’s Corsairs). Those same words are the ones that put an end to Alatriste, the movie directed by Agustin Diaz Yanez (Bendito Infierno, 2001), conceived with the idea of achieving an impact similar to the novels that inspires it, because “we are almost 400 millions of Hispanic-speakers in the world,, and we’re still being included into the Anglo-Saxon culture, so the best answer to that is to make movies that stand up to the technical level they have, but at the same time be furiously Hispanic in their content.”

In Spain, Alatriste opened on September 1st 2006, beating James Bond, Eragon, Superman and the X-Men, positioning itself as the fourth most viewed movie of 2006, just behind Pirates of the Caribbean 2, The DaVinci Code and The Ice Age 2.

Just Like a Hero

When the time came to put together a super production like this one, and be able to compete with the big Made in Hollywood productions, the people responsible for the project did not think about expenses, starting with a big A-level star, Viggo Mortensen, still fresh from the memory of The Lord of the Rings’ Aragorn.

“We had two names, Viggo Mortensen and Benicio Del Toro –Agustin Diaz Yanes explains-, but the later barely spoke Spanish, and Viggo showed great enthusiasm for the project, and was very committed since the start. He rejected other offers just to be able to have time to prepare his character; he’s a methodic performer, always ready to give himself entirely. He’s a luxury as an actor and person. The only condition he made was that we couldn’t even consider the option of making this an English-speaking movie just to give it a more international acceptance, but I assured him that was out of the question.”

During the press conference before the shooting of the film, Mortensen explained some of the reasons he found the script -which concentrates the five books published at the time- appealing. “It’s a very deep story, in it you can find the crumbling of an empire that lost strength and presence do to it’s war excesses, something that even though takes place in the 17th century Spain, it’s also applicable now days”, he said in open reference to the American empire.

Apart from Viggo, they also thought of Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel) for the part of Inigo de Balboa- Alatriste’s friend and narrator in the books-, about him the director Diaz Yanez said: “I’m passionate about him as an actor, but he had a very tight agenda and the producers had already changed the due dates lots of times in order to have Viggo, and it was impossible to match them with Gael’s dates.”

A Blockbuster that it is not.

One of the biggest complaints the movie has received is the fact that it concentrates the five novels, instead of making a saga, but this is something that bothers the director: “If we spent 2 million Euros, and it’s the biggest film budget ever spent in a Spanish film, Is there really someone that thinks we are in conditions to start a series of movies which costs would be over 100 million Euros? That’s idle talk…”.

And the fact is that, contrary to what we may think, Alatriste’s not an action-adventure movie, at least not in the strict sense of the term: “Some say there’s very little action inn it for an adventure movie- Agustin Diaz Yanes says-, but that it’s because they don’t get our approach, we never attempted to make a Spanish version of Pirates of the Caribbean, the books’ background and story have too much depth from the historical and political point of view to make it a cape and spade film”. The same way it’s leading character is more an antihero than a hero, the movie gives preeminence to the story of an empire’s fall throughout 30 years of history, than to it’s splendor.

We are in presence of an anti-epic movie, with spectacular sequences, and yes, a dose of royal intrigue, sword fights, and massive use of extras, but where introspection is more important than action itself. A suicidal approach that has disappointed more than one spectator, but one that at the same time has conquered many applauses, because what really transcends is the effort of showing the Spanish society that had in people like Cervantes, Quevedo or Velazquez, it’s mayor founders, artists that in their works reflected the beginning of decay, the end of a dream, the resigned awakening to the misery of an empire.

Because of all this, Alatriste is much more than a simple movie is a passionate journey to the origins of a sentiment in which identity is at last achieved.

Article by Jaime Iglesias, Madrid
Premier Magazine, Mexico
Issue 151, April 2007

Translated by Nimthiriel for