Thursday, September 14, 2006


Alatriste is a movie that is based on a series of novels set in Spain's Golden Century. The movie spawls accross 23 years. According to Wikipedia the first 5 novels spawl over 4 or 5 years. There is too much plot dealt with, more than can fit in 2 1/2 hours. The movie spawls so much as to cut off the possibility of any more movies with the same character. As it is combines the plots of several of the books are stirred together with extra time. The movie begins with Alatriste and his comrades wading through chest high water, a canal, to assault a Dutch field battery. Then Alatriste is back in Madrid recieving a contract with a Sicilian, hmm hiring a Sicilian hitman, to do a whacking. The targets turnout to be the Duke of Buckingham and the Prince of Wales, later the idiot king Charles I. Alatriste refuses to complete the contract thereby earning the enemity of his employer, an inquisitor. For the rest of the movie Alatriste is either at war, being successful, or in Madrid constantly being schemed against by his enemies. The movie finally ends in a glorious defeat that prevents any hope of a sequel.

Spain's Golden Century was a time when the Spanish empire, because of incompetent accounting, would go bankrupt every couple of years. It was a not a especially happy time. The easy money of the Americas was creating inflation and discouraging industry, agriculture and commerce. Extra cash was going into the coffers of the rich, the Church and to fund a long pointless war against Holland. Holland, the enemy nation, benefited more from the treasure fleets because it had a fuctioning banking sector. Let us not forget the Spanish Inquistion, as an arm of the state, discourged intellectual talent and inquiry. Spain's Golden Century was the high point that justified the stupidity, incompetence and religious bigotry that continued in Spain down almost to our time.

This is the story of a professional soldier who is as skilled in the arts of wars as he is unsuited to peace. Alatriste is talented and deadly. A leader who can inspire on the battlefield and make men do great things. Never an officer, not a nobleman, at best he is a senior NCO obeyed by soldiers, deferred to by officers. This type of character can easily become kind of literary bully boy, the boring winner. The trick about this kind of character, as Bernard Cornwell the Sharpe writer has writen is to give him enemies on his own side. At war he is safe, the other army may only shoot in his general direction. While peace endangers him, allows his enemies to plot and hire knives. The other techinique in this type of story is to keep the Hero broke and wounded.

The art direction of this movies owes alot to the painters and paintings of the period. The Dutch scenes have the kind of of misty half light as in the Night Watch. The Spanish scenes are replete with stagings and setting dirrectly out of Velázquez. There are paintings that are adorn the walls of nobles at court that are of its time. And in one notable sequence the the painting The Surrender of Breda is used as a basis of a scene, we later also see the painting as well.

What I learned from this film: The knife in the back is more deadly than the frontal assault.

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