‘Cell 211’ director tells his Strait story

Daniel Monzón is back working with star Luis Tosar in drug-trafficking thriller ‘El niño’

Luis Tosar during the shooting of Daniel Monzón’s El niño in Andalusia.
Luis Tosar during the shooting of Daniel Monzón’s El niño in Andalusia.

At last Daniel Monzón is laughing again. The director of hit 2009 prison drama Cell 211 surely never stopped doing so during the year-long stoppage his latest project suffered as a result of financing problems at television company Telecinco, which put back the shooting of El niño (The kid) when everything was ready to go. But now the laughter is clearer and louder.

El niño, which promises to be one of the big titles of next year — a September release is being talked about — is about to finish shooting in Andalusia, on the beaches of San José in Almería province.

After the success of Cell 211 — which scooped eight Goya Film Awards, including the prizes for Best Film, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Actor; took 13 million euros at the box office; and was seen by over two million people — Monzón is back working again with that movie’s star, Luis Tosar, who this time is accompanied by Eduárd Fernández, Sergi López and Bárbara Lennie, as well as British star Ian McShane and young newcomers Jesús Castro and Jesús Carroza. In the movie, Tosar plays a policeman obsessed with a major drug trafficker who runs into a youngster out for adventure and easy money.

With a budget of around seven million euros, this Spanish action thriller about friendship narrates the adventures of a small-time drug trafficker in the Strait of Gibraltar — there along that 14-kilometer stretch of sea on Europe’s southern border, risks are taken and fortunes are made.

After weeks of filming in various locations in the south — Barbate, Algeciras, La Linea de la Concepción, Sotogrande, Tetuán, Ceuta and Morocco — El niño has reached port in the calm waters of Almería to shoot the most frenetic action scenes with the kilometer-and-a-half-long stretch between the two beautiful rocks on the Playa de los Genoveses standing in for the turbulent sea of the Strait. This is a real story, based on real events — hashish trafficking between Morocco and Spain — and shot in a more than realist style. Here there are no special effects.

In the small hours of the morning two Fridays ago, the crew shot an authentic chase between a National Police helicopter piloted by Captain Luis Bardón, who has 25 years of experience at the controls, and a speedboat carrying three metric tons of suspected hashish, packaged up in bundles, driven by the real actor who plays the “niño” of the title, 19-year-old Jesús Castro, who hails from the town of Vejer de la Frontera in Cádiz province.

After eight months researching and talking to cops and criminals in the south of Spain alongside co-screenwriter Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Monzón has brought together the two strands of the plot — that of the two teenage adventurers and that of the police fighting against drug trafficking, knowing it is impossible to stop — in a story about good and evil that maintains a completely realist tone.

“Everything is real and everyday,” the filmmaker tells a group of journalists visiting the set — as real and everyday as the wellington boots and lifevest that Monzón wore to shoot the scene that Friday night, hidden among the packages on the speedboat while the helicopter’s powerful searchlight followed them barely a few meters above the water.

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