A hauntingly serene and sometimes moving experimental take on “Don Quixote,” Albert Serra’s “Honor de cavalleria” seems to have spliced that Spanish classic to “Waiting for Godot” via Bresson and Ozu. Silent and gentle where the original is verbose and tumultuous, pic reads between the lines of Cervantes’ masterpiece and works its absences up into two hours of painterly auteur fare that reps a radical re-reading. Hispanic fest sidebars and the occasional arthouse showing are likeliest for this engaging, willfully niche project, whose effects depend heavily on knowledge of the original. Film opened in Madrid May 12.
Plot is loosely based on a couple of episodes from Cervantes’ novel. The frail, aging Quixote (Lluis Carbo) and his calorie-heavy squire, Sancho (Lluis Serrat), are first seen in a field: They both look the worse for wear after another unhappy clash with reality for the knight.
Over the first 10 minutes, there are only a couple of brief exchanges as Sancho looks for a laurel crown for his master. The slow ritual of Sancho putting on Quixote’s armor is shown, while the physically most active sequence has Quixote bathing in a river and gleefully encouraging Sancho to do the same. One night, Quixote is mysteriously spirited away by four men on white horses.
With its beautifully nuanced and mostly voiceless thesping by the central duo, pic transmits an appealing air of serenity. (The rest of the fleetingly seen cast is similarly inexperienced.) Both of the main actors do wonders, given the minimal, often banal dialogue.
Carbo, with his wild, white hair, unkempt beard and over-alert, mildly crazed expression, looks like an aging Christ; he’s close to the Quixote of popular imagination, a driven figure who’s battered but far from down. The wonderfully corpulent Serrat plays Sancho as passive but unquestioningly devoted. At pic’s heart is the affectionate, sometimes comic relationship, founded on a mutual need that neither man fully understands.
Visuals are lovingly composed — and there’s ample time to appreciate them. Settings are exclusively rural, and care has been taken not to include any man-made constructions. There’s not a windmill in sight.
Like the directly-recorded sound, lighting is entirely natural. Some scenes disappear into almost-blackness, but the supercharged, dramatic skies over the Catalan countryside are sufficiently spectacular not to need tech manipulation. Music is absent until the final reel, when there’s an attractive guitar piece that perfectly suits the gentle mood.