The best, by far, is the way Plaza modernizes the genre, with humor and fabulous wisecracks.
Paco Plaza is on a roll after leaving the “[Rec]” saga behind him. Verónica (2017), that ambiguous ode to teen angst coated in demonic possession, even a tad reminiscent of that traumatic first episode in the saga he created with Jaume Balagueró. Back then it was a majestic block of apartments in Barcelona’s Eixample district, this time it’s a more working-class version in the Vallecas neighborhood of 1991. In both cases, reality gets infected by fantasy. But, with He Who Lives By The Sword…, which reaches our comfortable air-conditioned theatres on 30th August, the Valencia-born filmmaker is taking a break from fantasy cinema, which has been his mainstay throughout his career, and decides here to embrace a form of more tangible realism: that of the Galician narco-thriller.
Fariña, created by Ramón Campos from the best-selling novel from Nacho Carretero, narrates a decade of Galician drug trafficking in the nineties. Plaza captures the ‘here and now’ of the matter, while still maintaining a connection with the past, objectified in that bar where Los Suaves still play, as if not a drop of water had passed under the bridge. That connection is what will bring an ever-intense Luis Tosar, who here dons the white coat of a dedicated nurse, to take revenge on a long-standing local drug dealer who’s confined to a care home suffering from a degenerative disease. Played in life and in death by Xan Cejudo, who died shortly after filming, and to whom the film is dedicated. This is the most dramatic part and it works especially thanks to the prostrate boss. Although, despite the title, this isn’t the best part about He Who Lives By The Sword…
The best, by far, is the way Plaza modernizes the genre, with humor and fabulous wisecracks. Far from the wigs and excess makeup of Fariña (so obvious that it inspired several posts on Don Costume’s blog), our drug-world characters in He Who Lives By The Sword… are as credible as they come, beginning with Antonio Padín de Cejudo, and continuing with his children, who haven’t managed to inherit his business acumen. Both the Madrid-born actor Ismael Martínez and Catalan Enric Auquer worked hard on their Galician accents. Martinez comes across like a disoriented Tony Montana, but the work of until now little known Catalan actor is extraordinary. The combination of his peculiar nervous physique, like an over-excited pillbox and the trackie-wearing look given him by costume designer, Vinyet Escobar, truly transformed him into a ragtag narco, which works fabulously by the way.
The constant exaltation of money and drugs in certain Latin music being infamous, from reggaeton to trap, which dominates everything, the creation of a character like Kike’s is something that was a foregone conclusion. The finishing touches are put by Yung Beef, who gifted his “Ready pa morir” free for a clincher scene in the movie. Remember that Beef has his own past history with trafficking and who five years ago described the then emerging Spanish trap scene as “cocaine and fucking”, which could perfectly synthesize one of those traffickers who currently swarm the Rias.