"I’m grateful to cinema for life experiences it has granted me"
by Alfonso Rivera
- The award-winning director of Cell 211 is back with El niño, an action movie filmed in the Straits of Gibraltar.
Cineuropa: How did you film those really wild action scenes?
Daniel Monzón: They’re really filmed, no digital effects: there’s no catch. My team and I were on a boat running parallel to that of the actors, in the same boat as the protagonists, with the helicopter watching overhead, in the same helicopter, everywhere... and we were at the receiving end of a fair few blows.
It definitely is. It all started with Jorge Guerricaechevarría, the co-scriptwriter: he was struck by those guys who smuggle hash in speedboats across the Straits of Gibraltar. What’s behind it all? What motivates them? We went south and we investigated the situation for eight months: everything you see in the film is the result of conversations with customs surveillance officers, police, civil guards and "gamers" (the guys who drive the speedboats). They told us stories about drug trafficking from abroad, especially from the US to the Mexico border, and they were all very tragic... but here the kids really don’t know what they’re getting themselves into, it’s just a game for them, with their Andalusian wit. They’re great at telling stories, they draw you into their adventures... we saw what the situation was really like: this is a story about youths who do this for the silliest of reasons; they walk unaware into pretty dangerous territory.
What’s more, the setting is full of symbols
The Strait is practically unspoilt land as far as cinema is concerned: it has barely been depicted in film. Also, we could see the wealth of landscapes and its brutal contrasts: the King of Morocco facing Europe, Gibraltar – England – with its border, Ceuta and Melilla, underprivileged neighbourhoods alongside ultra affluent areas... You can’t get a wilder border than that, where two continents and three countries meet in just fourteen kilometres.
So are there locations in all of those places?
The borders you see are the real ones. It was a pretty big art and production job. We did some political work so that we would be allowed to film on the relevant sites: custom surveillance, Gibraltar, the Ceuta border... that was strange. We filmed for eleven weeks, three of which were at sea, in spring of last year: that’s the best light you find in the Strait, because the light in summer is too strong and in the autumn there’s normally a lot of rain. You’re also at the border of the sea and the ocean there, and that means a lot of un-forecasted storms and fog - that happened during several key filming days. There’s no doubt about it, it’s been an entertaining film-making experience: there was nothing missing...
El niño is a co-production with France, is that true?
Indeed, the French co-producer: La Ferme Productions and StudioCanal, is managing international sales and has been acting as co-producer because it invested loads of money ever since we released the movie in Cannes. It’s been bought for cinemas in France, England and Germany, and other countries in Asia and Europe. And Eurimages, which gave the largest contribution for three films: Nymphomaniac [+see also:
interview: Louise Vesth
film profile], The Great Beauty [+see also:
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile] and El niño.
I did when Cell was being released worldwide and I was receiving Hollywood offers, which I systematically rejected: I said to myself - what on earth would I be doing over there? Then the movie won a whole rake of awards and I enjoyed that. At the time I thought – what will I do now?... but I’ve had lots of time for it to sink in. And if I didn’t feel intensely passionate about something in the meantime, I didn’t bother with it. I’m satisfied with El niño: the whole process was enriching and exciting, that’s why I really want as many people as possible to like it. I make movies because I’m grateful to cinema for the life experiences it has granted me since I was a child... it’s been my emotional education, my friend, my handkerchief, my everything. Nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my films produce the same emotions in the audience as those which I’ve felt watching other peoples’ movies.
(Translated from Spanish)