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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Out of competition

Review: Las leyes de la frontera


- Daniel Monzón’s new film is story of initiation that is as frenetic and entertaining as it is conventional and playing safe

Review: Las leyes de la frontera
Begoña Vargas, Marcos Ruiz and Chechu Salgado in Las leyes de la frontera

The work of Daniel Monzón has always been clearly commercially targeted. Both in his crazy comedies where anything goes in order to get the audience laughing, and in his tense thrillers bursting with action and violence, the director has gone for films with an unashamed intention of connecting with the wider public. He maintains this approach in Las leyes de la frontera [+see also:
film profile
, an adaptation from the novel by Javier Cercas chosen to close the San Sebastián Film Festival. The result is an entertaining film that immerses us in the adventures of its leading characters but does not light any great sparks of admiration. It could be said that the original and daring sides of the film are not its strong points. It does, however, take us on a journey with plenty of appeal and it has a cast full of promising new faces.

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The film is set in Girona in 1978; Spain is just waking up after the long nightmare of the Franco dictatorship and looking hopefully to a future that would have to be really dark not to be so much brighter than what had gone before. And there we find Nacho, a young lad having a terrible time because of a group of bullies making his life impossible. It is with this leading character, portrayed with dignity and steadiness by young actor Marcos Ruiz, where things start to grate. Putting glasses on a good-looking, athletic bodied young man to make him come across as an insecure, vulnerable underdog is difficult to believe, regardless of how much effort this talented actor puts into the role. This idea is linked to the wooden feeling one gets throughout the film. A brilliant photograph that just doesn’t match in with the darkness of the world it portrays, or a calculated, precise and impersonal art direction, are some of the aspects that bring own a piece that could have gone so much further than it has managed to do.

But all is not lost: Monzón’s film is far from being a disaster. As well as a good performance by Ruiz there are a number of young actors filling the screen with their strong presence and charisma. Two key examples are Begoña Vargas and Chechu Salgado, as Tere and Zarco. These two characters rescue Nacho from his lonely and bitter existence, showing him into a world of delinquency and risk-taking, full of danger and irresistible appeal in equal measure.

You cannot watch Las leyes de la frontera without being reminded of the petty-crime moves of Eloy de la Iglesia or Deprisa, deprisa by Carlos Saura. And of course what is missing here is that piece of inflammatory truth that was there in the classic films of legendary directors. Instead, this piece shows us a more restful perspective, letting us see the Spain of almost half a century ago from a distance. And in the end, although Monzón’s offering isn’t as brilliant and lucid as we would like, it does invite us to reflect on the journey of an evolving, growing country, dragging along behind it the ghosts of a dark past, from which there a still too many unresolved issues.

Las leyes de la frontera is a production by Ikiru Films, La Terraza Films and Atresmedia Cine. Warner Bros will be the distributor for Spain.

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(Translated from Spanish by Alexandra Stephens)

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