Dir. Vicente Aranda. Sp-UK-It. 2005. 122mins.
One of Spain's most revered classics - it is sometimescompared to Don Quixote in importance - Tirante El Blanco(or Tirant lo Blanc in its original Valencian), has been transferred to the screen by Vicente Aranda for a big, handsome period production.
Unfortunately,the 15th-century Byzantine sets and splendid costumes are not enough to offseta dull, talky script, wooden acting and Aranda'sinability to generate empathy for any of the characters. Even his introductionof an increasing number of sex scenes during the second half falls flat.
Anyone expecting Tirante El Blanco to be a Spanish version of thesimilarly themed Kingdom Of Heaven - which itself played to mixed reviews - willbe disappointed. The film is even less dynamic than Aranda'searlier Mad Queen Joan (2001), whichwas set in 16th-century Spain.
TiranteEl Blanco opened wide inSpain earlier this month and after a splashy promotion campaign has now culledmiddling results at the box office. Part of the financing of the film came fromthe regional governments of Cataluna and Valencia, aswell as from various local TV and government agencies along with UK and Italianco-producers. But box-office potential beyond home will be soft onceword-of-mouth gets out that the sex scenes are tame and the adventurestrumpeted by the trailers are soporific.
The story, whichdraws on the book of chivalry by Joanot Martorell published in Valencia in 1490, concerns only afew pages from the original text, namely the swashbuckling Tirante's(Caspar Zafer) adventuresin Byzantium (Constantinople).
Tirante's arrival there with a handful of men tohelp fight the Turks is heralded with great pomp by the emperor (Giancarlo Giannini) and his court of seductive lovelies, especially Carmesina (Esther Nubiola), hisnubile teen daughter.
After about anhour - marked by tedious courtly palaver, meaningful glances and coyhand-kissing - the medieval hero and his horde of followers finally set off tocombat the Muslims.
But thelong-awaited battle scenes are literally no more than a stop-motion blur, withmany a swinging broadsword and axe and neighing horse and shouting, all somewhatakin to viewing a large painting of a battle scene in which the colours have been smeared with a wide cloth before they aredry. It is all over in a trice, with Tirante emergingvictorious.
In the secondhalf Aranda tries a different tack and barrages theaudience with simulated sex, bared bosoms and plenty of warriors galloping backand forth for no seeming purpose.
The ending sees Tirante marry the princess, thereby thwarting the emperor'sdesign to betrothe her to the Turk - but tragedystrikes the happy couple.
Caspar Zafer, as thelead, initially has a certain rugged square-jawed appeal, with his long hairand muscular physique. But Aranda's tiresome scriptnever enables him to do much more than prance about on his horse, stride aboutthe palace and lie in bed, either wounded or with female company.
Esther Nubiola, as Carmesita, isinitially as pretty as a picture, but as the feature progresses so her coycharms and monotonous lines start to pall.
A few enliveningmoments come thanks to performances from Victoria Abril,cast as a deceitful and intriguing widow; and the excellent Giancarlo Giannini as the desperate emperor trying to save hiskingdom.
Production valuesare strong - the film was partly shot on location in Istanbul - with excellentsets and production design recreating the opulence of the Byzantine empire and superb costume design.
All othertechnical credits are up to standard, but cannot compensate for the flatdialogue steeped in pseudo-period Spanish nor the consistent lack of dramatictension.
Vicente Aranda, based on the classic by Joanot Martorell
Jose Luis Alcaine