Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"A tale that has a textured solidity, a mythological weight."

Irati, variously: a Basque given name (feminine) meaning 'Star'; a tributary of the Aragon River; the Forest where that river starts; a film that connects each of those, delightfully.

Screened in the Frightfest strand of Glasgow's 2023 Film Festival, Irati was affected by technical issues that meant an early screening became a late-night one. A large audience still turned out, and Eye For Film were able to attend as some of those who couldn't reschedule had returned tickets. I've often remarked that luck is one of the secret currencies of cinema and a chance confluence of schedule made it possible for me to see. Fortune favours the over-caffeinated, perhaps, but Irati's clarity and quality were a draught more refreshing than anything canned.

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Opening credits over cave paintings give way to a tale that has a textured solidity, a mythological weight. There's sanguinary promises before the redlit, fleshy folds of the subterranean. Those sometimes as hail, low angles and wet cleavings, sometimes as verdancy, iridescency, woodland giving way to amphibian eyes. Through it all the ram watches, as much an icon as a cross of iron or a Bronze Age helmet.

I was minded of The Lord Of The Rings, Trollhunter, The Green Knight, The Northman, The Fall, The 13th Warror, Suspiria. Some of those because there are echoes of Beowulf but plenty of other old stories are similarly handed down. Some of those for visual invention, and all of them for solidity. Irati is not a religiously peaceful story but it fits together as neatly as any carpenter's dovetail.

In its underworlds, crypts, bloody forests and stalagmites there are echoes of other labyrinths, monsters, nods to Saturn devouring his young as communicated by Goya. While at times special effects on a budget that rivals Monsters or Desperado for efficiency fall a little short, more often they triumph. In the version Eye For Film saw some of the darknesses appeared to show textural artefacts of digital compression, but that's perhaps as much a function of format as film grain was for pictures past.

I had less issue with suspension of disbelief when a horse refused to cross a watercourse than with the notion that there was sufficient power in that riparian route to turn a millwheel. The hydrodynamic doesn't detract from the central dynamic, that between Eneko and Irati.

The former played by Eneko Sargadoy, who's worked with writer/director Paul Urkijo Alijo on previous short Dar-Dar and feature Errementari. Similar territory both, blacksmiths in league with the Devil and pinkie-promises to perdition. The latter Edurne Azkarate, in only her third film role. She's a tremendous presence, called upon to provide a nearly feral physicality to the eponymous -tagonist. Pro/anti/etcetera are more complicated, relationships and their navigation are difficult. In these evolving fabulous landscape footholds frequently become perilous.

It may over-reach in places but it's not hard to grasp what it's aiming for. Its roots in horror are evident in places, use of light, shadow, foley forward sound-design, but all well-used. This feels like a story with old bones, animated with invention of which Harryhausen would be proud. The score does quite a bit of lifting, and while Maite Arroitajauregi and Aránzazu Calleja are between them no John Williams, I've seen the Indiana Jones movies too. Some of that comes from adaptation, Alijo's film is based on the graphic novel El Ciclo De Irati by Juan Luis Landa and J Muñoz Otaegui.

Writing is re-writing, and film is editing, and adaptations (especially of visual works) are a chance to do both. Whatever elements are grafted together gain a chance to work as one, and from these chimaera we get any number of magical entities. Gorka Gómez Andreu's camera has a lot to capture, production design by Mikel Serrano and especially costumes by Nerea Torrijos give life with the ring of truth to their characters. That grounding includes plenty of mud and gore, but in an age as wrapped in conflict, steel is as precious as any other metal. There's plenty of its ring too, lots of stunt and fighting work that plenty of bigger budgets haven't managed to match.

The events may be deeply rooted in nature, but the film is a product of fertile imaginations, bearing rich fruit. One can only hope that it is seed of further flourishing.

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2023
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Irati packshot
Christian nobleman Eneko must fulfil the promise he made to his late father, to protect and lead his people into the new era. To do so, he must recover his father’s body, buried next to Charlemagne's treasure. However, despite his faith, he needs the help of his childhood friend, the pagan Irati.

Director: Paul Urkijo Alijo

Writer: Paul Urkijo Alijo, Jon Muñoz Otaegui, Juan Luis Landa

Starring: Edurne Azkarate, Eneko Sagardoy, Itziar Ituño

Year: 2022

Runtime: 114 minutes

Country: Spain

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