Its UK premiere disrupted by a recalcitrant subtitle font which required a new file to be transferred from Spain, delaying the film from the mid-afternoon to the late-night slot at Glasgow Film Festival’s FrightFest, the wait was absolutely justified by the eventual arrival of Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil’s writer and director Paul Urkijo Alijo’s second feature, the glorious fantasia of lineage, greed and love, Irati.
Based on the graphic novel El ciclo de Irati (The Irati Cycle) by Jon Muñoz Otaegi and Juan Louis Landa, itself inspired by the folklore of the Basque people, Irati opens appropriately with images, cave paintings illuminated by flickering torchlight, of the sacred Earth Mother Mari and her son and lover who worships her, the blood red serpent Sugaar, the Lord of the Valley Eneko Ximenez come to plead with her to help his people in their fight against invaders, an agreement reached which requires him to recant his Christian faith.
The cost for blood is blood, the intercession of the gods which falls from the skies turning back the column of armed men who march across the land but Ximenez’s son Eneko finding himself alone, hunted by enemy soldiers but protected by the strange outcasts of the forest, the lamia of golden voice and hair which floats across the water in which she drowns those she lures, the young girl who he will not see again for fifteen years by which time he is a man ready for the throne and she is a wild woman still dressed in rags.
Starring Eneko Sagardoy as Eneko, last of the Ximenez line, his father is dead and his mother Lady Oneka (Nagore Aranburu) is a Moor, a heathen in the eyes of ambitious Belasko (Kepa Errasti), a proud Christian who would widen that division to his own ends, while peasant Irati (Edurne Azkarate) is lower still, a pagan who is the granddaughter of the witch Luxa (Elena Uriz), yet it is they who know the passage through the mountains to the treasures desired by Belasko to secure his position.
Shot in the Pyrenees of the Basque Country which hosts the vast and ancient Irati Forest and using the Castle of Loarre in the nearby Huesca Province as a principal location of court intrigue and betrayals, Irati is set in the late eighth century, the old myths of the land and the creatures of the forest displaced by the new beliefs, fading from memory but still powerful in their retreats in their hidden places of darkness.
A film as primal as Errementari in its conflicts but rooted in something older and deeper, Irati floats downstream like a dream of that which changes and that which persists, the old wisdom forgotten and replaced by new beliefs, Eneko placing faith in his wooden cross and Itzal, his sure-footed steed who carries him through valleys and across rivers, while Luxa and Irati look inwards for answers and peace, seeing gold in dying leaves rather than seeking it in plundered burial mounds, content with being a part of the natural world which surrounds and protects them rather than seeing it as a resource to be exploited.