Few movies are as awaited at this year’s Málaga Festival as Daniel Guzman’s “Canallas” (“Monkey Business”) which world premieres in competition this March 19. 

It marks the follow-up by Guzmán, an acclaimed actor-turned writer-director, to his notable debut “Nothing in Return” which scored best picture, director and a Critics’ Prize at 2015’s Malaga Festival, going on to scoop Spanish Academy Goyas for new director and breakout actor, the latter for Miguel Herrán. 

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Daniel Guzmán Courtesy of Movistar Plus

“Canallas” also reps the second original movie production from Movistar Plus, as Spain’s industry looks to the pay TV/SVOD arm of telco giant Telefonica to co-produce some of the biggest movie plays in the country. 

Though the subject, setting and tone of “Canallas” could hardly be different from Movistar Plus’ debut movie outing, Alejandro Amenabar’s “While at War,” “Canallas” gives further clues to what kind of movies Movistar Plus is willing to sink money in. 

It’s clearly the work of an auteur, Guzmán typically meshing reality and fiction, casting a childhood friend, Joaquín González, as himself, a high flying entrepreneur – or so high imagines himself –  still living with his mum in a high rise in a modest outer-periphery big city ‘burb. 

When González and his family – played by his real non-pro family – face eviction, he turns to childhood friends Brujo and Luismi for help. 

Things were already going wrong. Caught in their downward spiral of intrigue and incompetence, they now get radically worse.   

Sold by Vicente Canallas’ Film Factory and set to be released in Spain by Universal Pictures, “Canallas” targets a broad audience, like most all Movistar Plus fare, however upscale, casting Guzmán (“Under the Same Roof”) and the always watchable Luis Tosar, star of Spanish hits such as “Cell 211” and “Maixabel.” 

It also drinks long at the well of Spanish film traditions, its mix of costumbrismo – comic local detail – and acid critique of a cash-strapped society’s ills recalling some of the signature movies of Luis Berlanga and Rafael Azcona. Other platforms make titles in Spain, but only Movistar Plus makes series that could only be Spanish, Telefonica Spain CEO Sergio Oslé likes to say.

The film is produced by Guzman’s own label, El Niño Producciones, Movistar Plus, La Canica Films and ZircoZine. Ahead of the premiere at Málaga, Variety sat down with Guzmán. The film is set for theatrical release on April 1.

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Canallas – Joaquin Gonzalez, Luis Tosar & Daniel Guzmán Courtesy of Movistar Plus/Lisbeth Salas

How would you describe the tone of “Canallas?”

I’d define “Canallas” as a popular comedy. It explores a big chunk of society which survives with dignity, proud of who they are. They also share a particular sense of humor. It’s also made from a personal point of view.

How did you come up with the idea for the film? Also as creator, how did you develop this unique type of humor?

I tried to let it flow, jumping in from where reality stands and creating “open fiction” elements which can be recognized by the audience. That’s what will make them laugh. I tried to focus on people in neighborhoods where almost 80% of the population live, and make it full of color and humor while trying to “destigmatize” its social issues as drama. Those who work 12 hours each day tend to have an acid sense of humour.

Both Luis Tosar and yourself are very experienced actors, and Joaquín is new to acting. How did you balance this?

Well, Joaquín also helped us. If you have a goal and you achieve it, as Luis says “it’s a win-win situation.” We were able to transcend the fiction-reality border and reach a truth in an imagined situation where we are all in it together. Because the characters are so local and particular that they become very recognizable to the audience. Then we all jump into their adventure.

Both “Canallas” and “Nothing in Return” involve friendship, especially close friends, the ones who become family, those who we choose to share our life with…. 

Those companions you choose to share your life with are both necessary and fundamental while growing up. That’s why childhood and adolescence are so important. In “Canallas,” they are just three fifty-year-old guys who still behave like children. That’s what closes the gap between the final shot of “Nothing in Return” and the first scene of “Canallas.” They’re the same.

“Canallas” reunites El Niño Producciones, Movistar Plus, La Canica Films and ZircoZine, and is distributed by Universal Pictures… 

When I see the Movistar Plus and Universal Pictures logos on the “Canallas” poster, it just makes me feel so proud, but also full of responsibility. They told me that we could make something personal but with a commercial flavour, while maintaining my auteurist voice. They boarded the project at the first draft and bet hard on it with me. I really think betting on us like they did creates both value and brand for them too. For us, having them in since the start pushed us far beyond, but that came with large responsibility as this film is not really conventional.

On this project you wrote, directed and performed. Have you ever done that before? How did it change your view during shooting?

I hadn’t. It was a big learning-curve because I ended up back at the essence of acting again. I studied with Leyton and Strasberg who taught me to listen, to rely on other people and use them as my motor in a process of action-reaction. I wasn’t able to watch the monitor during shooting, and that made me trust the others too. I had to rely on them all and that made me a better listener. At some point I disengaged from myself and fully stood as a listener and an observer. That was a huge point for me. I ended up back at the essence: Listening.

John Hopewell contributed to this article.

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Canallas Poster Courtesy of Movistar Plus