Ezekiel Montes Plumbs the Consequences of Violence in Brutal Spanish Shoot ’Em Up ‘A Dead Man Cannot Live’

“A Dead Man Cannot Live” begins with Tano, played by the lanky, weathered, graven-voiced Antonio Dechent, one of the finest actors of his around-60 Spanish generation, sitting at a bar rail, and thinking back on better times.

Even the Costa de Sol narco business is going to ruin. Tano’s boss, Manuel, is senile, his son and heir, the inappropriately named Angel, totally out of control. When younger mobsters steal Tano’s latest drug shipment from Morocco, Tano is given a week to retrieve it by the Russians mafia or die.

In the 2000s, Spain’s dominated Europe’s horror genre. Shoot-em-ups, like “A Dead Man,” form part of a building wave of crafted Spanish action thrillers. Few are as bloody and violent as “A Dead Man” which becomes a critique of the tragic consequences of the very brutality it portrays.

Sold by Filmax, the feature debut of Ezekiel Montes played Spain’s Malaga Fest competition this August and now the Spanish Screenings-Málaga de Cine. Variety chatted to Montes during the Spanish cinema showcase.

“A Dead Man Cannot Live” has scenes of great violence but these build into a film which presents, ultimately, a case for the tragedy of violence. Could you comment?

It was necessary to approach that universe with respect, I have always wanted to approach the reality of the world of drug trafficking and among all that darkness, find a little light, some codes, some values, which today are disappearing in our society. Violence was necessary to show that the actions of these characters have consequences, it was necessary to be able to understand the universe where the protagonist is living is very dangerous and to verify that despite that, our protagonist remains faithful to his codes, his friends and his word.

The film is also about the passing of an age, a kind of autumnal shoot ‘em up. Again, could you comment?

Loyalty is dead, the characters in the film are the last generation that lives with that code of honor and little by little, they are dying with their values. After the construction crisis in Spain, I wanted to show how those entrepreneurs live who in the past made a lot of money and are now old and all they want is to retire in peace. Despite the life they’ve had, we can sense the human side to these characters. It’s very interesting to approach them at that moment in their lives, when they are fading away and that prompts conflicts with a younger generation, who do not respect anything, have no type of [ethical] codes.

Elena Martinez
Credit Ezekiel Montes

The film has a superb cast, led by Dechent, so often a standout supporting actor, so rarely a lead. Was he always your idea for Tano?

The film was always written for Dechent and the Andalusian actress Elena Martínez, they were the first two actors to be in the project. Antonio Dechent has made a masterful film, with great emotional and physical work. He led the entire cast and has been an incredible partner throughout the process, for me it’s a dream come true to make this film with him.The work of Elena Martínez, Paco Tous, Jesús Castro, Rubén Ochandiano and all the non-pro actors has been spectacular. I feel fortunate.

“A Dead Man Cannot Live” also features real life figures in Malaga, such as the imposing Jesús Rodríguez, who plays, bar the violence, a version of himself as head of La Casa de la Buena Vida. Though an action-thriller there’s a large social grounding to the film….

I was born in these neighborhoods, with these people. When I started the casting of the film, I knew that we had to work with people from the neighborhood, to give truth to the story and show another point of view of their lives, tell the good part, that part of light, that society often prejudges. On set, we created a family, all of us working together to move the film forward and we all knew we were creating something special.

What were your main guidelines when directing .”A Dead Man Cannot Live”?

Tell the truth, as it is, without hiding myself and being faithful to the viewer, being faithful to those characters, being faithful to what happened at that time.
The film is the characters, if I was faithful to the script and what the characters felt, I knew I was on the right track, I did that throughout the shoot, although sometimes the story led us to very dark places. But I put everything into my focus on getting to tell what we had in the script. I feel very fortunate to have been able to make this film and that all the actors trusted me to tell this story. Thanks to them, we have kept the tone of the film.

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Ezekiel Montes
Credit Ezekiel Montes

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