Review Outlaws (The Laws of the Border) – Spanish: Las leyes de la frontera is a 2021 Spanish film directed by Daniel Monzón adapting the novel of the same name by Javier Cercas.
Spain, the city of Girona, late seventies. Eighteen-year-old schoolboy Nacho (Marcos Ruiz) lives in a fairly prosperous family: his father is a civil servant. However, at school, Nacho has constant problems. Because the guy is a typical “nerd”: frail build, wears horn-rimmed glasses. Classmates and other schoolchildren do not like him, and they constantly arrange all sorts of tricks for Nacho: they drown him in the school pool so that the guy almost choked, then they beat him, then they break his bicycle, and Nacho knows that his father will not give him money for repairs.
In order to somehow escape from sad thoughts, Nacho goes to the slot machine hall of fat man Thomas Vilaro, where he spends a lot of time. At some point, a couple comes there: a guy in his twenties named Sarko (Chechu Salgado) and a twenty-year-old girl Tere (Begonia Vargas). They waited for Nacho to finish playing pinball so that they could play themselves, Nacho kindly gave them a place, and while Tere played, Sarko chatted quite friendly with Nacho: he wondered how many people came here to play, and whether the fat Vilaro had a good income .
They came back a few days later, and Tere called Nacho to come hang out and smoke dope with their group in a square in Girona’s “Chinatown” area. There are no Chinese there, but the area is rather nefarious: brothels, prostitutes on the streets, high crime and full of drugs.
In addition to Tere, there were four other guys in Sarko’s company. They also treated Nacho well and gave him the nickname “Bespectacled” (gafitas – literally: “glasses”). Nacho smoked grass with the guys, drank beer with them, after which he began to spend a lot of time with this company.
Meanwhile, this whole party, in addition to their usual entertainment, is also busy with a serious matter: they steal money from bank visitors, encircle rich mansions, raid pharmacies in order to get all sorts of interesting pills, which can then be pushed to the coast by drug-hungry hippies.
And Nacho quickly gets involved in this whole criminal life. He likes his new friends, he likes Tere, who clearly shows a certain interest in him, he likes this constant feeling of adrenaline. Moreover, Nacho, unlike all the other members of the group, speaks good Catalan, and this helps him gain confidence in the locals.
The activity of this company gradually attracts the close attention of the police, and the recently arrived Inspector Vives (Pep Tosar) begins to deal with this case.
A 2021 film based on the novel of the same name by the very popular Spanish writer Javier Cercas, six nominations for the 2022 Goya Award, five of which wins: Best Screenplay, Best Makeup/Hair, Best Production Design, Best Art Direction costumes, best debutant actor. There are also four nominations, including two awards from the Union of Screenwriters. Well, I thought, I need to look.
The first half of the movie wasn’t very impressive. No, of course, such a familiar Girona, a well-recreated atmosphere of those years – cars, clothes and hairstyles of the late seventies (more precisely, it is 1978, because the film directly mentions the death of Pope John Paul I), very colorful Sarco and Tere, handsome guy Nacho, but the dynamics in this half of the picture, in my opinion, was not enough, and it was not very clear where everything was going. I thought that they were just using Nacho, setting him up, but I would not want it to end in this way: the guy already got it in this life.
However, just somewhere around the middle of the film, the action noticeably accelerated, and there a merry-go-round of events began, which unfolded faster and faster. And there the characters of Sarko, Tere and some other members of the group were already drawn in more detail, and Nacho (this is an abbreviation for the full name of Ignacio) began to take more and more active part in the operations of this criminal company.
If I watched the first half of the picture with a feeling of “well, not bad, but nothing special”, then the second half of the picture was already passing from the category of “now it’s clear why such delights” because it was very dynamic and exciting.
The film is mostly about the late seventies, and, in addition to recreating all the signs of the era, director Daniel Monson carefully worked on the production as such: this movie is made in a somewhat old-fashioned style and seems to have been shot somewhere in the eighties. But this does not look like an outdated shooting style, but rather like a successful stylization, because this approach correlates well with the described era.
Also about my fears that Sarko is just using Nacho and setting him up – no, the film clearly shows that Sarko really treats him well and is not going to set the guy up at all. Nacho is mainly used in the role of “stand on the lookout”, and if he moves to some more decisive action, then only on his own initiative. And Sarko, on the contrary, tries to save Nacho, because he understands that the guy is not at all like them. The entire Sarco company, including Tere (short for Teres), are marginalized: they come from dysfunctional families, they have nothing, and most importantly, they have nothing to lose.
They exist on the principle of “Live fast, die young” and, most likely, this is the fate of all of them and awaits, especially since some of these guys know how to run up out of the blue. But Nacho – no, he is completely different: he can get a good education, he can make a career. And Sarko even tries to keep Nacho out of all this.
In the film (especially in the second half) there are a lot of bright and exciting episodes: hanging out on the beach with hippies, entertaining them in nightclubs, robberies that become more and more aggressive, confrontation with the police. And there are several unexpected and spectacular plot twists in store, which I, of course, will not discuss, so as not to spoil.
Marcos Ruiz as Nacho – loved it. It’s kind of like a nerd-nerd, but the guy has a character, and he’s not as simple as it might seem. It is clear why this whole company was so addictive, despite the outright crime in which she was engaged. At school, he was bullied, he felt like a pariah. And here, although marginal, they accepted him into their company, and among them for the first time he felt like a man. Well played, well worth it.
However, it was not Marcos Ruiz who received the prize for the “best debutant actor” of the Goya Award: despite his young years, he was by no means a debutant – before this tape he had already played in fifteen films, some of which were quite famous – these are such pictures like “The Man with a Thousand Faces” (I watched it but didn’t write a review), “The Adventures of Captain Alatriste” and “Happy 140”.
Chechu Salgado, who played Sarko, received the Best Debutant Actor award. Salgado already had a couple of feature films and series behind him, but there he had very small roles, and here he is actually the second most important role. And Salgado’s Sarco turned out to be very interesting: initially he looks like a rather dangerous guy, but he doesn’t show any aggression, he treats other members of the company well: they don’t make fun of each other, except maybe just the usual good-natured jokes.
Sarko is a kind of product of the era: poverty, an unhappy childhood and all that. And he does not try to somehow break out of this upward: he understands that his fate is theft and robbery, and that he will end soon and badly. Therefore, let’s hang out now, while we still can – he’s pulling away.
Tere was played by actress and fashion model Begoña Vargas. A very beautiful woman, and a good and promising actress. Tere – like Sarko – grew up in poverty. She understands that she can only get something in this life through criminal means, and she takes an active part in all this.
Nacho is clearly interested in something – apparently, because he is completely different, he is not from their world – and she openly flirts with him, although it seems that Tere is Sarko’s girlfriend. But Sarko does not pay any attention to her relationship with Nacho, he has many other girls, and besides, there are other reasons.
Well played, well worth it. Begoña does an excellent job of showing some tension and sympathy that arises between Tere and Nacho, with seemingly insignificant gestures and the way she looks at him at times. An interesting and bright character, I really liked it.
What is the result? I have already expressed certain complaints about the film: the first part, in my opinion, is somewhat lengthy, it would be good to cut it by about half (the film runs for two hours) – then it would become quite good and dynamic. But even in this form, I, in general, quite liked it, I did not regret at all that I saw this film.
Now let’s answer the question – where to get it and in what form it is. For those who have access to Netflix, you can watch it on this streaming platform. Also in torrents it is in the original with Russian, Ukrainian and English subtitles, in addition, there is a Russian voice over, and quite decent, I listened to it on purpose.
PS Still, with swearing in Spanish, everything is quite modest. No, they have, of course, very catchy expressions, but, for example, in this film, in the most intense scene, when the police are chasing them, there is only hijo de puta (son of a bitch), hostia (like “damn”, “f# d”), well, and always used by everyone joder (also a kind of exclamation, like “bl#d”).
Director: Daniel Monzón Cast: Marcos Ruiz, Begoña Vargas, Chechu Salgado, Xavier Martin, Carlos Oviedo, Jorge Aparicio, Daniel Ibanez, Cynthia Garcia, Victor Manuel Pajares, Xavi Saez
Crime drama, Spain, 2021, 127 min.