David Victori (Manresa, 1982) made his first feature film in 2018: the psychological horror El pacto (The Pact, 2018). Two years later, and following his dazzling début in the film world as a young talent acknowledged by international names like Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender – winning Your Film Fest, organised by YouTube, with his short film La culpa (The Guilt), and making the online series Zero – the Catalan director is presenting Cross the Line (No matarás) at the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia. This tense thriller, set in a Barcelona you don’t often see in the cinema, filled with neon lights and unexpected twists, reflects Victori’s natural ability to weave plots and take the viewer on a journey with his characters.
You have a new film coming out at Sitges. What does this mean to you, especially this year?
Sitges has a unique energy. It’s the most internationally recognised film festival in Catalonia and has a really special, inimitable atmosphere. Twelve years ago, I took La culpa there: a short film that has brought me a lot of joy. Since then, I have felt an emotional and professional connection to the event: three years later, Zero premièred there, and we won the Sitges Cine365 Film award. For these reasons, being here again means a lot, and then there’s the fact I’m playing at home. All my family and friends will come to the première, and that’s the way I like it, because right now it’s the perfect place to celebrate cinema.
You’ve been mentored by international names like Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender. We tend to think home-grown talent has to make the jump to Hollywood to be able to succeed. But, for now, you’ve stayed at home.
I’m not sure you have to make that jump any more. The industry has changed a lot over recent years. I’m in Madrid at the moment, directing a series for Netflix with the creators of La Casa de Papel. A few years ago, filming with the resources, means and money we have now would have been unthinkable, a pipe dream. To get this, you had to go elsewhere. But not any more: we’re making a ‘global show’, aimed at the whole world. During filming, we know it will be watched everywhere: in the US, in South America, in Asia, etc.
It’s been a very abrupt change. Now, when creating, your generation thinks from a global perspective.
Before, it made sense to go elsewhere to grow as a filmmaker and work on bigger, more ambitious projects. But in an industry like today’s, which has more resources and is more globalised, and where your product will travel around the world, it’s not as necessary. At the end of the day, I want to create stories that move me, that motivate me and that can be created with all the resources they need.
The new generation includes names like Carla Simón, Elena Martín, Elena Trapé, Neus Ballús and Carlos Marqués-Marcet, with two precursors in J.A. Bayona and Jaume Collet-Serra. It seemed like Catalan cinema had to be artistic and experimental, but each of you, with your nuances and specificities, has shown that this isn’t true, that you can win international prizes and reach a wide audience.
It’s a generational change, that’s true. We’ve grown up with cinema for commercial purposes, with the intention of reaching wide audiences. It’s what we’ve learnt and what we’ve loved, as viewers. Then, this is combined with the fact that there are very good film schools created in Catalonia. It also helps that we have role models who have shown that it’s possible. In my case, it was Alejandro Amenábar. He was part of a generation of filmmakers from all over Spain who believed an ambitious, wide-reaching kind of cinema could be made. And our generation noticed that. I remember leaving the cinema after seeing Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes, 1997) and thinking I wanted to make that kind of cinema, that I could make it.
Cross the Line appeals to the senses: the weight of the music and the sound, the use of colour, the set design, the uneasy environment… they are all important elements.
Absolutely. All the camera, music and sound work aims to emphasise what the character is feeling. I wanted to create an experience for the viewer. I like films that sweep you away, that are like a tsunami. Films that, when you’ve finished watching them, make you feel like you’ve experienced something. And you have, because they have kidnapped you mentally and emotionally. I like stories that take you on a journey. I think the people who have seen the film have gone on the journey I intended.
The sequence shot is used for an even greater impact on the audience, to make them feel part of the story. It’s a complex tool.
It is, and for several reasons. First, when looking for the right location: it needs to match with the internal rhythm it will have in the finished film, in terms of time. With a sequence shot, you need to get it right during filming. You can’t alter it during editing, so it's a risk. But we were determined for this to be a first-person journey through the protagonist, so we were brave. I had a technical and artistic team made up of admirable people who were committed to everything they were doing, and they made me a much better director. I just listened to them and let intuition guide me. An intuition fuelled by them. On the screen, I think the scene you’re talking about [when Dani comes down from Mila’s flat] works really well: it creates tension and a focus on the present moment.
You talk about tension and the present moment, and it makes me think about how you built the story. We are used to thrillers starting with a lot of tension from the first minute and it carrying on until the very end. That’s not the case here. The first scenes are measured, routine, almost costumbrista.
A journey begins at a certain speed and ends at another. That’s how I wanted to approach it: if the journey has momentum in the three quarters of the film after the start, it’s because it sets off from where it sets off. I need to portray the protagonist’s [Dani, played by Mario Casas] surroundings properly. If you understand where the film sets off, where it arrives has all the more impact. It is worth experiencing these initial minutes as a viewer, because everything that comes after will be more powerful and intense.
You show us a Barcelona we’re not used to seeing in the cinema.
The film is a collision of two worlds: Dani’s and Mila’s. Mila is a night owl who appears in Dani’s life. I had to situate them in different environments. I know Barcelona well, I’ve lived there for many years. And I lived in the Poblenou neighbourhood for a long time, and the feeling it gave me seemed suitable for the story. Obviously, it’s an exaggeration: the real Poblenou isn’t like the one in the film. But its structure allowed us to take the action to where we took it. We start off with a friendly city, then we go to a much colder, lonelier, more inhospitable city. The industrial structure of the neighbourhood made it the perfect way to express this and achieve this effect.
Mila [Milena Smit] is key. How did you find her? You mentioned a ‘collision of two worlds’. There’s a real chemistry between her and Mario Casas.
The character of Mila was already difficult in the script. I wanted someone with genuine energy. Otherwise, the film wouldn’t work. As a viewer, you need to believe all the decisions she makes. In fact, if the central decision isn’t believable, the film doesn’t hold up. That’s why it was important to choose a casting director that cared a lot about the project. It was their first film and I knew that they would give their all, and that the journey wouldn’t be easy. We looked at most Spanish actresses for Mila. There were some great options, but there was something really genuine about Milena Smit. We knew it was her. She was the one I had had in my head for so long. And we found her on Instagram!