The story takes place in the Catalonian city of Girona and its surroundings in 1978, shortly after Franco’s death and the rebirth of democracy in Spain. Nacho (Marcos Ruiz) is a quiet and shy, bespectacled teenager. The literal 17-year-old virgin. He is nicknamed Specsy, with the nerdish looks and attitude of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001). The gorgeous Tere (Begona Vargas) quickly seduces the young man, and co-opts him into the local gang.
Nacho/Specsy quickly turns into a trigger-happy criminal. His good-boy looks and Catalan language skills are very handy in distracting victims while the other gang members – Tere, Zarco, Guillo and others – rob people, raid houses and even attempt to rob a bank. What started out as a nerd-teen drama gradually morphs into a full-blown gangster, with unscrupulous police officers, car chases, abundant violence and countless bullets.
Adapted from a novel by Javier Cercas, Las Leyes De La Frontera nevers shies away from fetishising violence and criminality, instead it seems to rely on those for cheap thrills. Not the type of dirt we value at DMovies. The adrenaline-fuelled action scenes and the sexual attraction between Nacho and Tere drive the narrative forward. The developments are mostly unimaginative and predictable, in a movie that lacks originality and freshness. The ending is risible. The uninspiring 1970s soundtrack combined with the glamourisation of violence, including a graphic torture sequence et al, give the Spanish film a subpar Tarantino-esque feel.
Nacho’s move from boyhood and gangsterhood is compared to Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. King Juan Carlos is featured on television boasting the country’s move into the future. Felipe Gonzalez too is presented later in the story. I’m not entirely sure whether there is indeed a connection between the character and the history of Spain. A very awkward contextualisation device, as with much of the film’s narrative arc.
Not everything is lacklustre in this 130-minute movie. The mise-en-scene is indeed spectacular, with flamboyant clothes, colourful building facades, eye-catching posters and street signs from the 1970s. There are extensive street scenes, and I presume a large amount of CGI was required in order to transform the urban landscapes. Not an issue at all for a production with a very healthy budget of €5.7 million.
Las Leyes de la Frontera just premiered as part of the Official Competition of the 69th San Sebastian International Film Festival.