Directed by: Paul Urkijo Alijo || Produced by: Ortzi Acosta, Alex de la Iglesia, Luis de Oza, Laruent Fumeron, Daniel Goroshko, Gorka Gomez
Screenplay by: Paul Urkijo Alijo, Asier Guerricaechevarria || Starring: Kandido Uranga, Uma Bracaglia, Eneko Sagardoy, Ramon Aguirre, Jose Ramon Argoitia, Josean Bengoetxea
Music by: Pascal Gaigne || Cinematography: Gorka Gomez || Editing by: Paul Urkijo Alijo || Country: Spain || Language: Basque
Running Time: 98 minutes
One of the arguments made in favor of Netflix and other streaming services is how they can popularize smaller, niche films or festival genre movies that would likely flop at the box office, or otherwise be confined to limited releases in major cities. The ease of online media and cheap advertising that is word-of-mouth ensure these types of films are never buried, even if the rare theatrical success that explodes auteur filmmaker careers is forgone.
A great example of these diamonds in the rough made available to mainstream audiences is the Spanish dark fantasy film, Errementari, also known as El Herrero y El Diablo in Spanish, or The Blacksmith and the Devil. But wait, you say, “Errementari” isn’t a Spanish word! Is it from Catalonia, perhaps? As a matter of fact, “Errementari” is the Basque or Euskara word for “blacksmith,” because Errementari is a Basque-language film shot in Basque Country, an autonomous nation straddling the borders of Spain and France. Basque itself is a language isolate, meaning it is unrelated to any modern language family as far as linguists can demonstrate (Korean is another example), a type of linguistic “offshoot” if you will. I had never heard of the language before I stumbled across this film’s trailer on Netflix, and my puzzled reaction to the cryptic tongue sent me on a wild research dash across the Internet.
In any case, Errementari is further notable for its memorable characters, impeccable lighting, and impressive production values, meaning the film has considerable craft to back up its language preservation. The most immediate filmic comparison that comes to mind is Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), a Spanish-language period fantasy about a young girl whose family becomes involved in the Francoist regime during the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War. Either parallel to this historical backdrop or as a function of the protagonist’s escapist daydreaming, she encounters a series of portals to fantastical realms filled with fauns, monsters, and fairies (think The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ). Errementari is comparable in that it takes place during an earlier Spanish civil war (the Carlist Wars, 1833-1840), follows the adventures of a young girl protagonist (Uma Bracaglia), and involves dark fantasy, its story unfolding in the manner of a throwback fairy tale.
Its extensive use of practical FX, foreboding imagery, and moody, desolate settings also recall films like Dragonslayer (1981), The NeverEnding Story (1984), Labyrinth (1986), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and another Guillermo del Toro film, Crimson Peak (2015). The filmography and visual style of del Toro in general have much in common with this film; a love of fantasy and fables with a liberal dose of morbid darkness saturates their stories, themes, and characters. In other words, if you’ve seen much of del Toro’s work or similar fantasy movies from decades’ past, you’ll recognize the tone and general air of mysticism that permeates throughout Errementari’s narrative.
The details of that narrative aren’t too fascinating save for how they flesh out co-writer-editor-director Paul Urkijo Alijo’s likable characters. Bracaglia’s relatable, sympathetic protagonist and Kandido Uranga as the titular anti-hero smithy enjoy great chemistry as the supporting cast drops hints of their backstories here and there, which dovetail with the Carlist War backdrop and a few cryptic demons looking to subjugate pious, Christian souls. My favorite character is Eneko Sagardoy’s Sartael, an initially sneaky, unsettling demon who’s later revealed to be the incompetent, bumbling fool of Satan’s demonic forces. Sagardoy is decked in full body makeup, an ingenious, Oscar-caliber costume that beautifully informs his character — intimidating and scary in low-key, indoor lighting, but goofy and childish in high-key, outdoor environments.
Speaking of lighting and photography, Errementari looks amazing both indoors and out, taking full advantage of its scenic, misty Basque countryside as well as its wonderful set-design. The blacksmith’s fortress and the gateway to Hell (yes, we see Hell in the movie, in all its fire and brimstone glory) are highlights, both of which sport reference-level lighting setups that inform tone, build tension, and add further characterization to both heroes and villains.
Errementari, regardless of your opinions on the greater fight between conventional movie studios and the likes of Netflix, is a movie I would have never seen in theatres. As of this writing, the film doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, for God’s sake. Maybe I could’ve stumbled across a bootlegged Blu-Ray or shoddy YouTube rip after a theoretical limited big-screen release, but even that stretches credulity for those of us living outside major metropolitan areas or film festival circuits. Errementari is a unique, powerful film portrayed in a language spoken by little more than one million people worldwide, and echoes the best of fantasy cinema, all without a “Young Adult“-novel franchise backdrop in sight. Why on earth would I choose to watch Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) in theatres for $7-20 a ticket when I could watch this?
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Errementari is a throwback fairy tale whose visual style and ambition rival the best of Guillermo del Toro, as well as classical 1980s fantasy. Its characters are likable and sympathetic, though ultimately second fiddle to its impressive FX, memorable set-design, and beautiful lighting. Combine all that with director Paul Alijo’s utter command of foreboding narrative tone, and you have a winner of a cinematic fantasy.
— However… Errementari’s only true shortcoming is its somewhat predictable, formulaic story. Then again, this is a fairy tale…
—> RECOMMENDED, of course!
? The incorporation of demonic hierarchy into the story is amusing, particularly when Sartael shits his pants upon realizing Alastor‘s true identity.