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‘Money Heist’ creator Álex Pina: ‘The experience for the viewer is much better when things go bad’ | USA

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Triumph ahead of the final destruction. That is how you can sum up the discourse and the feelings conveyed by Álex Pina on his emotional return to “the scene of the crime.” He is speaking to EL PAÍS from the sets of Money Heist, located in the Madrid city of Tres Cantos, before they are destroyed forever once the fifth and final season of the global hit show is complete.

The production – famous for its thieves who wear Salvador Dalí masks, tout an anti-system spirit and are named after world cities – began its life over two seasons on Spanish network Antena 3, and sees the gang of criminals assault the Spanish mint. In a recut version, the show found a worldwide audience in 2017 thanks to Netflix, and the plot moved on in subsequent episodes to an assault on the Bank of Spain – with hostages included.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead]

Actors (l-r) Jaime Llorente, Belén Cuesta and Úrsula Corberó during a scene from the fifth season.
Actors (l-r) Jaime Llorente, Belén Cuesta and Úrsula Corberó during a scene from the fifth season.TAMARA ARRANZ/NETFLIX / EFE

“The show works better when it’s being consumed compulsively than when it’s broken up,” Pina explains, speaking back in July about how it can be binged now its on the popular streaming service. “Commercials and waiting from week to week take away that anxiety created by the time passing in the show, meaning that you don’t get so caught up in it. What’s more, Money Heist works in very short times. The experience for the viewer is much more intense when it’s consumed compulsively, and much more addictive of course.”

But there is something else there, something that they discovered bit by bit – a result, perhaps, of the power of Netflix all over the world. First, the actors in the show – called La Casa de Papel in its original version – noticed that their followers on social media shot up exponentially. Second, they were unable to film on location in cities (for this last part in Copenhagen) without attracting a crowd of admirers. Then came the Monte Carlo Television Festival, which saw the city plastered with imagery from the show, and later the appearance of protestors all over the world donning the distinctive red overalls and Dalí masks worn by the characters when at demonstrations.

The virtues and the excesses of the show are heightened even further in this fifth season, which is more violent than ever. Pina admits that he and his team opted for the war genre for the last episodes, which Netflix will be releasing in two batches of five episodes: one available from today, September 3, and the other in December. “We are a country with a major inferiority complex with fiction,” he argues. “Money Heist is crazy because these guys could never be locked inside the Bank of Spain because they would wipe them out, but you have to do something that has other components, with its own internal rules, which have to be coherent, and not with reality, which is contemptible from the point of view of fiction. And when you do it, they say to you, ‘Where are you going with this?’ Well, gentlemen, there we have Marvel, which has been the most-watched thing in cinemas for 10 years and just keeps on getting bigger.”

Set emulating the Bank of Spain after the final shoot for ‘Money Heist.‘
Set emulating the Bank of Spain after the final shoot for ‘Money Heist.‘Andrea Comas

The “lyrical vision” of violence seen in other seasons, with the Italian revolutionary song Bella Ciao as a theme, makes way for something that’s tougher this time around, a shift that Pina defends. “We try to sublimate the violence in esthetic terms because it seems to form part of the vision of the show to us,” he explains. “A show has an editorial line, like a newspaper does. There are things that you can and can’t do.”

TV fiction in the 21st century has gone through a revolution, as has the concept of what is and isn’t allowed. Pina, who was behind other Spanish TV hits such as Los Serrano, Periodistas and Los hombres de Paco, knows what he is talking about. Plots, for example. “Viewers have changed a great deal. When we worked in TV in the 1990s and the 2000s, there was a kind of guardian angel who protected the viewer, who knew that his protagonist was not going to get killed, and even if things got bad, it would all turn out alright in the end. But the experience for the viewer is much better when things go bad. We killed [character] Nairobi, and so now when someone has a gun pointed at their head, you say, ‘Jesus, they’re going to kill them!’”

What’s more, protagonists can be designed to be likeable, even if you can also hate them. “Ten years ago they would say to us, ‘The character has to be clean because if he’s a bastard no one will want them in their homes.’ But now the perversion of the villain is very attractive,” Pina confesses. He is mainly referring to Berlin (Pedro Alonso), the member of the gang who is homophobic, narcissistic, egocentric and cruel, but is also one of the favorite characters among the viewing public. He has disappeared from the plot now, but still returns explosively in some opportune flashbacks. “We’ve had a lot of fun with him,” Pina admits.

Signs of violence on the set of ‘Money Heist.’
Signs of violence on the set of ‘Money Heist.’Andrea Comas

In the first two episodes of the fifth season – which EL PAÍS has been able to see ahead of their release – the jealousy, disagreements, egos, love and desire still exist between the gang members, all of which have been an essential part of the show’s success. “What people want is to be entertained, and we have added an idiosyncrasy of Latin affectivity to a genre such as the perfect heist, which used to be very cold and mathematic. We have created a hybrid that worked the world over, perhaps because there was a demand for emotions, something that ran hotter,” Pina continues.

“Checkmate, you son of a bitch […] Your conviction is our salvation,” utters police officer Alicia Sierra (Najwa Nimri) to the mastermind behind the heists, the Professor (Alvaro Morte), during the first minutes of the fifth season, when several of the characters are on the ropes.

There are few limits left for these characters, and that was noticeable among the team, Pina admits, which has clear red lines. “We were working on episode two in the midst of the pandemic, online, and I could see that we didn’t have the immediacy, that spark, and so we threw it all out to create an experimental episode, without fragmenting time, and where there is even a different protagonist. And we did it as if it were a season finale.” But it isn’t. There are eight more to go.

Fans of the genre know that the perfect heist, from classics such as The Killing or The Asphalt Jungle, to the more recent Heat, Heist or The Town, never goes completely to plan. The first ending planned by Pina and his team ended up in the trash. We will have to wait and see what happens to Lisbon, Tokyo, Denver, Bogotá and co. when these 100 hours of imperfect heists, which have already become a part of television’s recent history, finally come to an end.

English version by Simon Hunter.



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Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen

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After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.

Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.

The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.

Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.

Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.

Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”

Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.

Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.

When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.

With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.

Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.

The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.

Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.

Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.

It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”

Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian

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Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force

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New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.

At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.

The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.

For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.

Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.

On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.

Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”

The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.

Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.

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Divock Origi delivers late delight as Liverpool see off Wolves

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Wolves 0 Liverpool 1

Divock Origi’s last-gasp strike sent Liverpool top of the Premier League with a dramatic 1-0 win at Wolves.

The substitute fired in from close range in stoppage time just as it looked like the Reds would fail to score for the first time in eight months.

He spared Diogo Jota’s blushes after the forward hit Conor Coady on the line following Jose Sa’s second-half mistake.

Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at West Ham gave the Reds a path to the summit and they went top thanks to Origi’s late show. Resilient Wolves were left with nothing despite another battling display and sit eighth.

Liverpool had blown away the majority of their rivals this season, having scored four in each of their last three Premier League games before arriving at Molineux.

They had, simply, been too good but found Wolves at their resolute best until the death.

Only Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Bruno Lage’s side prior to the game and there was strong resistance to Liverpool’s threat.

The visitors failed to find any early rhythm, thanks largely to the hosts’ determination. Aside from Leander Dendoncker slicing a clearance from Jota’s header the Reds made few first-half inroads.

Three straight clean sheets had given Wolves’ defence renewed confidence and they continued to keep it tight as Liverpool slowly began to turn the screw.

Trent Alexander-Arnold volleyed over after 28 minutes and then turned provider for Jota, who headed his far post cross wide.

Liverpool had control but only managed to open their hosts up once and, even then, Romain Saiss’s presence ensured Mohamed Salah just failed to make contact with Andrew Robertson’s low centre.

As an attacking force Wolves were non-existent. Having scored just five league goals at Molineux that was no surprise but Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez and Hwang Hee-chan carried little threat.

Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk were on cruise control and apart from Rayan Ait-Nouri’s sharp run – before he wasted his cross – there was little for Liverpool to fear.

Yet, they were still searching for a goal. Having scored in every Premier League game since a 1-0 defeat to Fulham in March more was expected after the break.

Salah’s knockdown caused some penalty box pinball which saw Thiago Alcantara twice denied but Jürgen Klopp’s men lacked the fluidity and precision to break Wolves down.

They needed a mistake from Sa to create their best opening on the hour and even then Jota missed it.

The goalkeeper raced out to the left after Jordan Henderson’s searching pass for Jota but collided with Saiss to give the forward a clear run to goal.

He advanced but from just six yards belted the ball at the covering Coady on the line.

Alexander-Arnold drove over as Liverpool’s frustrations grew and Sa denied Sadio Mane late on.

But Origi had the final say deep into added time when he collected Salah’s pass, turned and fired in from four yards.

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