We republish Audiovisual 451’s interview with Edmon Roch on the occasion of ‘Las leyes de la frontera’.
Daniel Monzón’s ‘Las leyes de la frontera’ is the film responsible for closing the 69th edition of the San Sebastian Festival. It is undoubtedly one of Spain’s big bets for the last part of this year. The film, which is scheduled to be released on 8 October by Warner Bros., is a seven-million-euro blockbuster that sublimates such a Spanish sub-genre as ‘cine quinqui’, which in the 1970s and 1980s was made fashionable by directors like Eloy de la Iglesia and José Antonio de la Loma, while Carlos Saura vindicated it and rehabilitated it for critics with ‘Deprisa, deprisa’.
This ‘cine quinqui’, so reviled at the time but which filled the cinemas of the suburbs, now seems to be living a new stage, totally revitalised. If last year Daniel Calparsoro showed his updated vision of this subgenre with the excellent and also box-office hit ‘Hasta el cielo’, now Monzón returns to the late 70s to tell a story of adolescent love in a world of muggers, in the midst of the Spanish transition.
Las leyes de la frontera’ is the adaptation of the novel of the same name by Javier Cercas, with a screenplay by Jorge Guerricaechevarría, together with Monzón himself, a tandem that has come together once again after working on the screenplays for films such as ‘Celda 211’, ‘El Niño’ and ‘Yucatán’.
But the film does not describe a grey Spain in the summer of 1978, quite the opposite, because its authors have opted for stylisation: “We revisit that Spain of the Transition but in a stylised way, from memory, with a very colourful and lively romantic perspective”, acknowledges the director of ‘Cell 211′.
The shooting, initially scheduled for May 2020 and delayed to the summer, took place over ten weeks in the natural settings portrayed in Cercas’ novel, in locations such as Girona, Manresa, Montblanc and Costa del Garraf, among others. The film was produced by La Terraza Films, Ikiru Films, Atresmedia Cine and Las Leyes de la Frontera AIE, in collaboration with Buendía Estudios. In addition, Netflix has acquired the worldwide rights to the film. This production by Edmon Roch, Mercedes Gamero and Javier Ugarte received €1.2 million in general aid from the ICAA in 2020.
The leading trio in ‘Las leyes de la frontera’ are Marcos Ruiz (‘Primos’, ‘El Hombre de las mil caras’, ‘Futbolísimos’), Begoña Vargas (‘Malasaña 32’, ‘Alta Mar’) and Chechu Salgado (‘Fariña’, ‘Monteperdido’, ‘Patria’). The cast is completed by Carlos Oviedo, Xavier Martín, Daniel Ibáñez, Jorge Aparicio, Víctor Manuel Pajares and Cintia García.
Producers Edmon Roch (Ikiru Films) and Mercedes Gamero (Atresmedia Cine) talk about the film on the eve of the San Sebastian Festival.
Audiovisual451: You and Javier Ugarte are both used to complicated shoots, now in Spain?
Edmon Roch: “I was commenting with my partner Javier Ugarte, that after the super complicated shootings we had had in Africa like ‘El cuaderno de Sara’, ‘El viaje de Marta’… another film in which we had travelled half the world on a cruise ship like ‘Yucatán’, now we had a film that was a little quieter, shot in Catalonia. At the time, we didn’t know what was in store for us, reality ended up imposing itself, a pandemic arrived that is not covered by any insurance and that put us in a situation of extreme risk”.
A451: By the way, lately you’ve been working alongside Javier Ugarte (La Terraza Films)?
E.R: “The truth is that we always go hand in hand. It’s a guarantee to be with Javier Ugarte and Cristóbal García by our side”.
A451: And how do you tackle a film like this in a pandemic?
E.R: “This makes you put everything in perspective, that theoretically complicated films, with unpredictable contingencies such as shooting in Africa, now seem like simple things to us as opposed to trying out how to shoot for the first time in a pandemic. When we started shooting ‘The Laws of the Frontier’ in August last year, there were many things that we know now that we had no idea how to deal with then. Sometimes we looked like astronauts and everything was compulsively disinfected.
A451: Not to mention the added costs…
E.R: “Of course, the impact of all this has also been felt in the budget, the film is the same but more expensive. All the Covid protocols just add up”.
Mercedes Gamero: “It’s true, it’s a very ambitious project. At the time we didn’t know what was coming, of course”.
A451: If production gives you vertigo in normal conditions, I don’t want to think what can go through the head of a producer in these circumstances…
E.R: “It’s true, the vertigo, the fear of something happening, was part of the day to day. We were guided by the doctor Buenaventura Clotet, who advised us on everything we had to do to be as safe as possible, which could not be one hundred percent. What we did was to apply the strictest protocols to avoid scares. But as I said, the vertigo was there on a day-to-day basis, doing PCRs non-stop and prepared for the worst”.
A451: Wasn’t there any thought at some point of taking a step back, cancelling or waiting any longer?
E.R: “It was clearly a risky decision, but both the producer Mercedes Gamero of Atresmedia and the distributor Warner Bros. were clear that we had to shoot without giving up the script we had, which was extraordinary, by Daniel Monzón and Jorge Guerricaechevarría, and we didn’t want to rewrite it. This implied a much more difficult somersault”.
A451: How was this reunion with Daniel Monzón? How many films have you already made?
E.R: “We had made ‘El Niño’ and more recently ‘Yucatán’ with Daniel Monzón. This is the third one. Even Javier Ugarte had been involved before in some way in ‘Cell 211’. It’s always a pleasure to work with Daniel.
M.G: “In our case, this is our first collaboration with Daniel Monzón and we hope it won’t be the last”.
A451: And how did this first collaboration between Daniel Monzón and Atresmedia Cine come about?
M.G: “Edmon Roch had acquired the rights to the novel by Javier Cercas on which the film is based. About two or two and a half years ago I met Daniel, we started talking, we connected well, we understood each other and shortly afterwards he told me that he was considering adapting Javier Cercas’ novel. They sent me the novel, I loved it and we made a development contract for Jorge Guerricaechevarría and Daniel to write the script and we started working on it. It all came about in a very organic way.
A451: Daniel Monzón, a novel by Javier Cercas… those ingredients imply a certain tranquillity for the producers, don’t they?
E.R: “You’re never at ease, we always like to be demanding and go for ambitious productions, because we are also demanding spectators. This implies a lot of preparation before shooting so as not to have to improvise anything afterwards, but as you prepare more and surround yourself with the best, it becomes a wonderful challenge with the aim of making the best possible film and the one we want to make. To achieve this, the basis is always to be very well accompanied on a creative level and by fellow travellers, Atresmedia, Warner, Netflix, the ICAA ….. What is clear is that Daniel is always very clear about what is best for the film”.
A451: And then there is the successful novel…
E.R: “It’s true that we started with the extraordinary material of Javier Cercas’s novel, we knew that there was a big film in it”.
M.G: “Javier Cercas saw the film at the beginning of August and he was delighted. It has also been a pleasure to work with him”.
A451: It was ten weeks of shooting, what was the most difficult thing apart from filming in a pandemic?
E.R: “That’s right, it was ten weeks. The most difficult thing was the nature of the filming itself, not repeating any location, the journey itself for the characters. Apart from the main character’s house, every day we changed shooting location and this is complex in pandemic. On the other hand, recreating a year like 1978 is not easy now. The Gerona of 1978 no longer exists, it disappeared in the 1990s, with the reformulation made by Mayor Joaquín Nadal. In a way, as happened with pre-Olympic Barcelona, the Barrio Chino of Gerona described in Javier Cercas’ novel no longer exists; it is now one of the coolest areas of the city. Only the names of the streets have been preserved, but they have nothing to do with it. Today, to get to know the Girona of 1978 you have to read the novel by Javier Cercas. The other possibility is the magic of cinema, which has managed to recreate that Girona”.
A451: What was the Girona of the late 1970s like?
E.R: “I’m from Gerona, I was nine years old at the time that ‘Las leyes de la frontera’ tells the story, I have a very vivid image of that Gerona that we wanted to build. Although only 43 years have passed, recreating it with the veracity shown in the film has been a challenge. I left Girona when I was 18. I had returned to Gerona several times but I had never made a film in which Gerona was another character, for me this has been very gratifying, I’m very proud of it”.
A451: So what has weighed more, the physical intervention or the post-production?
E.R: “It’s part of the magic of cinema, but there’s a bit of everything. Daniel likes to shoot the scenes without tricks, that things really happen. We already experienced this in ‘El Niño’ and ‘Yucatán’. Now we’ve gone back to that premise, with lots of classic cars from the 70s. He really likes things to be experienced, to be rooted in reality. But logically there is the intervention of a magnificent art team, headed by Balter Gallart. It’s something that doesn’t seem to be there, but we had an impressive team of carpenters, plasterers, painters… for months transforming the streets of Girona and the other places where we filmed and always starting from that base of reality, intervening in the natural spaces. To this we have to add Miriam Piquer and the whole visual effects team to go where art could not, such as digitally eliminating current elements. The aim we have achieved is to give the sensation that we have shot in 1978”.
M.G: “The film is a very complex production, with lots of extras, lots of cars, lots of action, a relatively recent period film with all that this implies for art, wardrobe, hairdressing… It’s a very complex film, to be honest”.
A451: You had to take the positive side of the situation…
E.R: “Yes, we turned the problem into a virtue. The months that we had to stop did not serve to deepen the production of the film. Daniel never lost his passion for the film to keep motivating the cast, talking also with the technical team, with all the crew chiefs. His idea was that the film would continue to grow in those months, that no one would switch off despite the uncertainty we were experiencing. We didn’t know what was going to happen the next day. Fortunately, after taking the risk of shooting in those conditions, we can be very happy with the result, we have the film we want.
M.G: “That’s right, as Edmon says, we made a virtue out of necessity. Daniel was working very hard, keeping both the technical and artistic team totally involved, with video calls, sending assignments… Above all so that the younger actors could immerse themselves in the period in which the story takes place, watching films of the time…”.
A451: There was no going back….
M.G: “The reality is that at no time did we have any doubts about the film. We only changed the shooting dates, from May to August, and despite the difficulties we never thought that the film would not start, it was clear to us that it was going to be made. There was a lot of uncertainty, but if you don’t start the machinery, what do you do? It also gave us a lot of peace of mind to have producers like Edmon Roch and Javier Ugarte”.
E.R: “It’s true that we were very clear that the film was going to be made sooner or later. We, that is, Daniel Monzón, Javier Ugarte and I started to think about this film when we were finishing ‘El Niño’, which is a 2014 film. The pandemic broke out a few weeks before shooting started and we had to redo many things, such as certain locations, there were also members of the team who had to work together… Mercedes Gamero was very generous in the sense that she was clear that if we had to take the risk she was going to do it and there were no more doubts, we went ahead and took on the responsibility and the extra cost”.
A451: In addition to the usual partners, Netflix has also entered…
E.R: “In the end, Netflix has kept the film for the rest of the world. This has also been an important help for the film. There is also TV3 and we have also worked with the Mogambo team, with Ignacio Salazar-Simpson, with whom we have already collaborated on other occasions. We also used the services of Crea SGR”.
A451. And what has Buendía Estudios contributed to the production?
M.G: “Within Atresmedia, Buendía helps us with all the logistics and economic-financial management of production”.
A451. What can you tell us about the casting, with professional and non-professional actors?
E.R: “This is another of Daniel’s great virtues when it comes to his films, of course, with the complicity of Mercedes Gamero, Javier Ugarte and myself, who saw everything very clearly in this case from the beginning. But this has already happened in previous films of his, such as with Jesús Castro in ‘El Niño’ or even before that with Alberto Amman, in ‘Celda 211’, who was not so well known at the time. Daniel likes to go for faces that have that capacity to transmit. Nor can we forget the casting directors, Eva Leira and Yolanda Serrano, who are specialists in bringing that truth to the films through their selections. There has also been important coaching work with the actors. In this case, the pandemic has helped us a lot, because it made it possible for Daniel to continue rehearsing with the cast remotely, explaining the details of the character to each one. It also made it easier for non-professional actors who hadn’t been in front of the camera to mix perfectly with actors who already had some experience in the industry”.
M.G: “The producers went to Eva Leira and Yolanda Serrano’s office one day and when we saw the casting tests we were amazed, the work was impressive, we saw it very clearly, it was impossible to say no”.
A451: And what does it mean for the film to close a festival like San Sebastian?
E.R: “It is an enormous satisfaction to be able to close the San Sebastian Festival, it has never happened to us before, it is an honour for us. We are going to see what we can do, we have to be very careful because the first thing is health. We have several things prepared but we don’t know if we will be able to carry them out. What is certain is that we are going to make the most of it, enjoy it and be grateful because it is something unique.
M.G: “We are very grateful and proud to be able to close the San Sebastian Festival, we will adapt to the circumstances”.
A451: And after San Sebastian, what will be the film’s trajectory?
E.R: “After that we will only have to wait for the premiere on 8 October in cinemas. We are confident that we can count on Warner Bros., they are very involved and excited, but we also know that the situation is not easy for cinemas. Many people still haven’t got back into the habit of going to the cinema, let’s hope that the situation improves and they come back soon. Santiago Segura has shown that Spanish films can work well in these difficult times. He did it last year and has done it again this year, which is marvellous, but it is no less true that others have taken the same risk and have not done well. However, I think there is no better experience than seeing a film like ‘The Laws of the Frontier’ in a cinema. You have to keep taking risks, films are made for this”.
M.G: “We will coincide with Almodóvar’s theatrical release, but we have been looking at this date for more than eight months. We believe that ‘Las leyes de la frontera’ is a film with great potential and that it can connect with the public”.
A451: What’s next for Ikiru Films?
E.R: “As you know, we are in the middle of production on ‘Tadeo 3’, fortunately it has been a film that has been little affected by the pandemic, because they have been able to continue teleworking as it is animation. Nico Matji and Enrique Gato continue to direct the film’s production and directing operations without all of them being present in person. The idea is that it will be ready next summer. This year we have finished several shoots. We have shot the debut of the Catalan director Carlota González-Adrio, ‘La casa entre los cactus’, based on the novel of the same name by Paul Pen. We shot it in the Canary Islands last spring and it is now in post-production. It’s another commitment to young talent, with a proposal that is going to surprise. We have also shot ‘La niña de la comunión’, directed by Víctor García, who had previously worked in the United States, and is now making his debut as a director in Spain. It is a genre film, which I really wanted to make, again with the help of Atresmedia and Warner Bros. It’s another film to enjoy on the big screen, with a wonderful team, with the people from DDT for the make-up effects, Luis Tinoko for the visual effects and a very strong young cast…”.
A451: Cinema at the extremes, blockbusters and debut films…
E.R: “The important thing is always the stories you tell and how you tell them, no matter the size of the production. The ambition is always the same, even if the production needs are different. The key is always to have very good travelling companions in production, direction, artistic and technical team”.
A451. And what’s next for Atresmedia Cine?
M.G: “This year we have ‘Live is Life’, the new film by Dani de la Torre, and also ‘La familia perfecta’ by Arantxa Echevarría. We have finished shooting ‘Los renglones torcidos de Díos’, by Oriol Paulo and ‘El juego de las llaves’, by Vicente Villanueva and the aforementioned genre film entitled ‘La niña de la comunión’. We’re very active, dynamising the industry, which is what we have to do, we all have to work together to get it off the ground”.
A451: This year you have hit the nail on the head again with ‘A todo tren. Destino Asturias’, will there be a sequel?
M.G: “That’s right, we are already working on ‘A todo tren 2’, which we plan to release in December 2022. It is a luxury to be able to work with Santiago Segura and the producer María Luisa Gutiérrez. It is a guarantee in every sense, from a personal and professional point of view, we understand each other very well”.
A451: The truth is that you can’t complain about how things are going for you in cinemas under the current circumstances.
Mercedes Gamero: “We are releasing in cinemas and collaborating with platforms. For us, platforms are a complementary element”.
A451: What do you think of the Spanish Audiovisual Hub?
M.G: “I think it is very positive for the industry and for the Spanish brand. In fact, we keep seeing international shoots coming to Spain in a natural way. If this is already happening, with more institutional support we will become a very important production hub”.