Spanish title: El Niño
Country: Spain (90%) | France (10%)
Director: Daniel Monzón
Produced by Álvaro Augustin, Ghislain Barrois, Victoria Borrás, Olivier Courson, Vérane Frédiani, Jordi Gasull, Emma Lustres, Jaime Ortiz de Artiñano, Antonio P. Pérez, Borja Pena, Franck Ribière, Edmon Roch, Jorge Tuca, Javier Ugarte and Harold van Lier for Telecinco Cinema, Ikiru Films, Vaca Films, La Ferme! Productions, Maestranza Films, Mediaset España, Canal+ España, Canal Sur Televisión, Ono, Eurimages, Dune Films, El Niño La Película, Institut Català de les Empreses Culturals (ICEC), Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales (ICAA), Seven Islands Film
Story and screenplay: Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Daniel Monzón
Music: Roque Baños
Cinematographer: Carles Gusi
Editor: Cristina Pastor
Art director: Antón Laguna
Cast: Luis Tosar (Jesús), Jesús Castro (Niño), Eduard Fernández (Sergio), Sergi López (Vicente), Bárbara Lennie (Eva), Jesús Carroza (Compi), Mariam Bachir (Amina), Juan Motilla (Manolo), Moussa Maaskri (Rachid), Saed Chatiby (Halil), Ian McShane (Inglés), María García (Marifé), Abel Mora (Hombre del Puerto), Ales Furundarena (Juez Instructor), Somaya Taoufiki (Amiga de Amina), José Manuel Poga (Mario), Inma Pérez (Carmen), Juan Carlos Villanueva (Don Manuel), Simón Ferrero (Policía Secreta), Chico García (Guardia Civil Gibraltar #1#1), Rafael Puerto (Guardia Civil Gibraltar #2), Elías Pelayo (Teniente Guardia Civil), Oti Manzano (Técnico Escáner), José Tomás Caballero (Tío de Compi), Juan Francisco Rodríguez (Pescador), Daniel Morilla (Técnico de Laboratorio), Luka Peros (Murat), Abdel Saou Arraiss (Magrebí #1), Monai Saou Ahmed (Magrebí #2), Khaled Kouka (Magrebí #3), Fouad Mazroua (Marroqui Azotea), Chema del Barco (Jefe Taller), Bouzekri El Gattaoui (Hombre Desdentado), Abdelghani Hraira (Chico Magrobi #1), Yassin Felbus (Chico Magrobi #2), Apll Abbassi (Magrebi Barca #1), Jawad Sakhi (Magrebi Barca #1), Mohamed Hilat (Magrebi Sicario #1), Nizar El Akel (Magrebi Sicario #2), Mario de la Rosa (Agente G.A.R.), Antonio Gómiz (Agente G.A.R.#2)
Spanish takings: €16.206.693,87
Spanish spectators: 2,757,638
Spanish subsidies: Ayudas a la Amortización de Largometrajes – General (€1.500.000,00)
Budget: €6,000,000 (estimated)
El Niño follows two separate groups of characters who are, inevitably, destined to come together with dramatic consequences. On the one side there’s obsessive cop Jesús (Luis Tosar from Sleep Tight), whose every attempt to bring down a kingpin drug smuggler (a silent, almost eldritch Ian McShane) ends in failure. Demoted after arranging a sting which netted a big haul of frozen fish but nothing in the way of drugs, he has little option but to take up his old job as a patrolman on one of the helicopters flying over the straits of Gibralter. One the other side there’s Niño (Jesús Castro), who is frustrated with working as a low paid laborer in a boatyard and sets about establishing himself as a drug runner in collaboration with his friend Compi (Jesús Carroza) and a Moroccan contact Halil (Saed Chatiby). Unfortunately this brings him up against some established Arabian smugglers who aren’t particularly about the emergence of these upstart rivals. In the meantime, even more dangerous criminals from Albania are moving into the area, leaving a trail of headless bodies in their wake.
Back in 2009 Daniel Monzón had a considerable hit with the prison set action drama Cell 211, which picked up numerous awards and almost unanimously positive reviews both inside and outside Spain. It’s a measure of how distribution has changed in the intervening years, however, that his 2014 follow up El Niño – which was even more successful domestically – was ushered out in the UK on DVD without any funfair. European films in general seem to be suffering, with European popular cinema being particularly affected. Because, let me make this clear, apart from the fact that is has subtitles – something which really shouldn’t be a hindrance in this day and age – there’s absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t have been a success Internationally: it’s slick, intelligent and involving. It reflects badly on cinema in general that these kinds of productions are so routinely ignored, showing up the laziness of the distributors and what’s more the laziness of audiences. So welcome to 2017, a year which promises a new superhero movie every week interspersed with the odd tedious example of Oscar bait and a couple of art movies to keep the self-styled intelligentsia happy. Sod brexit – we’ve brexited in all but name already.
Written in collaboration with Jorge Guerricaechevarría (and Alex De La Iglesia regular), the pacing sometimes wavers and the running time is about fifteen minutes too long. However El Niño is an otherwise impressive film. It has something of the glossy, epic feel of earlier European crime films (Romanzo Criminale, El Lobo) while at the same time playing up to the conventions of the likes of Mission Impossible and the Bourne films. Monzón directs it with some skill, including a couple of action scenes – most particularly the extravagant opening sequence – which would give most Hollywood productions a run for their money. More importantly, the script is well judged, featuring a range of well sketched characters who talk and act in a believable fashion; what’s more, it has some interesting things to say about important contemporary issues (migration, the disillusionment of the young, the failures of neo-liberal capitalism). The one possibly duff note (the relationship which develops between Niño and Halil’s sister (Mariam Bachir)) is largely mitigated by the appealing performances.
Review by Matt Blake, 2017
What the critics said
“The makers of El Nino have carefully studied what goes into making a good thriller, and with this expansive, action-filled and socially aware take on a teenager’s involvement in international drug smuggling, they’ve made it. A compact, nicely twisting script, classy performances and quality visuals are the hallmarks of a film which, though short on psychological nuance, over-long and lacking in the directorial distinctiveness that might have made it really special, still delivers in all the key departments.” Jonathan Holland, Hollywood Reporter.
“This familiar tale of the globalization of criminal enterprise has been plopped down in the Strait of Gibraltar and slapped with subtitles. Director Daniel Monzón delivers a conventional genre exercise — albeit a very effective one, with twists and turns that manage to surprise.” Martin Tsai, LA Times.
“Well, I was born on Mallorca and I’ve always been drawn to the sea. I’ve always wanted one of my films to have the sea as its protagonist. So one day my scriptwriter talked to me about how due to the crisis in Spain, the young men who smuggle hashish from Morocco to the south of Spain in speedboats were taking to the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar in bigger numbers than ever before. He said that it had the potential for a great film, and that he could visualize these young men in fast boats, adrenaline coming out of their pores, with the open sea as a backdrop. So straight away I began to look online for more information and I found videos that the police had uploaded on YouTube of them in their helicopters going after these speedboats. It took no time to realise that visually the film could be stunning, and that this was the film in which the sea could be a leitmotif, just as I had wanted to do.” Interview with Daniel Monzón, Latino Life.