A 15th-century Valencian literary classic is given an English-language makeover by Spanish vet Vicente Aranda in “Tirant lo Blanc: The Maidens’ Conspiracy.” Series of epic medieval adventures become the background to a comic but unconvincing will-she/won’t-she yarn. Revisionist instincts of Aranda, who turns 80 this November, are still intact, but worthy intentions are extinguished by wooden scripting and dialogue, bland central perfs and a single-strand plotline. Pic has done middling B.O. in Spain since release in early April, but the high-profile Spanish cast is unlikely to generate similar interest elsewhere.
Rather than take on the whole epic, script sensibly bites off just a few pages from the original. The emperor of Byzantium (Giancarlo Giannini) hires Tirant lo Blanc (hunky Caspar Zafer) to save his empire from invading Turks. After he’s presented to the empress (Jane Asher), Tirant catches a glimpse of the breasts of their nosebleed-prone daughter Carmesina (Esther Nubiola). It’s the start of an obsession that lasts for the duration: The Achilles’ heel of the fabled warrior is his attraction for women.
Among her friends and confidantes, Carmesina counts Pleasure-of-My-Life (Leonor Watling), Estefania (Ingrid Rubio) and Peaceful Widow (Victoria Abril). Dialogue between them, however, sometimes sounds like it’s been taken from a porno script.
Carmesina’s friends encourage her to marry Tirant to save the empire from the evil Turks. But one evil Turk (Rafael Amargo) also has designs on her, and the empress believes Carmesina’s marrying him instead would actually be the best way to save the empire.
The issue of whom Carmesina will lose her virginity to provides the script’s only point of interest.
Defined by the helmer as “Arthurian vaudeville,” pic does feature a few nice comic moments, generated by Tirant’s decline from hero to physical wreck as he breaks his legs and has to be helped around.
Dialogue is mostly stiff and cod-medieval, full of “beholding” and “knowing not.” Supporting thesps are fine in awkward roles, with the lively Watling and the effortless Abril standing out, while Giannini actually makes the weary emperor plausible. But the crucial Zafar/Nubiola coupling, despite all the flesh on display, lacks both soul and eroticism.
Choral music is ladled on thick and soon starts to damage, rather than underpin, the atmosphere. Visuals are up to scratch, with Yvonne Blake’s wonderfully over-the-top costume design deserving mention.