While in Madrid I picked up a copy of Alatriste, a Golden Age period epic that follows the adventures of soldier and sword-for-hire Diego Alatriste in early 17th-century Madrid. The film stars Viggo Mortenson in the title role, and borrows elements from the first five novels in the Alatriste series by Arturo Pérez Reverte.
This was the most expensive Spanish feature ever produced, although by American standards it was woefully under-budgeted. It wonderfully captures the paradoxes of Golden Age Spain – a country at its height culturally and artistically, but also beginning its centuries-long decline.
The filmmakers had a wealth of material to choose from in the novels of Pérez Reverte; each of the five source novels could have provided enough material for a solid adventure movie on its own. Combining them into a single panoramic epic that covers 20 years in the life of its hero has the unfortunate effect of diminishing substantially its cinematic impact.
Budgetary constraints are also evident from time to time. Scenes that ought to be grand in scope feel claustrophobic at times, as if by filming in dark light and confined spaces the director sought to camouflage inadequate sets and locations.
Despite these weaknesses, Alatriste is a cinematic event that cannot be missed by aficionados of Golden Age Spain.