David Victori (Manresa, 1982) loves to construct complex characters, well-armed with powerful and original stories to entertain audiences. And he’s done it again in the thriller “Cross The Line”, which, after featuring at the Sitges Film Festival, opens in theaters with an excellent and demanding Mario Casas as the protagonist alongside debutant Milena Smit. We talked to the director about actors, work methods, meditation and the desire to improve.

Were you pleased with the reception “Cross The Line” received at the Sitges Film Festival?

I’m very grateful, happy and excited with the reaction of the public and also of the critics. The day of the official screening was a beautiful day. Although I always say that, how it’s received by audiences isn’t as important to me as the process of making the film. And we also have to bear in mind that, at Sitges, everything is magnified, and you live in a bubble. We’ll have to wait and see how the film performs at the box office.

How do you define “Cross The Line”? What genre would you place this nocturnal odyssey in, where a good natured Mario Casas is suddenly and unwittingly catapulted into a spiral of violence, madness and debauchery all down to Milena Smit’s character?

I define it as a sensory action thriller, which is closely related to one of my first short films, “Reacción” (2008), starring Santi Millán. “Cross The Line” is if you like, an effort to extrapolate that short to the plot of a feature film, so that the viewer can experience the journey made by Mario Casas’ character in the first person. In this sense, there’s one scene where the audience, very connected to Mario, even applauds what happens to another character. But I won’t say any more than that…

How did you plan your work prior to filming? What were you most interested in?

The first thing, like I’ve said before and here’s where the vocation to have a truly sensorial narrative comes in, was for all of Dani’s senses to intervene in the role of Mario. Second, to give both Mario and Milena Smit absolute freedom. During the first script reading, he told me that we had to cut to the truth, that we couldn’t pretend. I wanted to push him to the limit, and Mario replied: “Give me this gift.” In the case of Milena, not being an actress, I couldn’t direct her in a conventional way, by that I mean, I couldn’t tell her to put herself on that particular spot and to not move from there. In this sense, the use of the handheld camera was very important, as it facilitated the actors’ movement. Every day, we conscientiously set the stage, decorated and lit it, and threw the actors out to die there. The camera operator, Edu Canet, was even treated as an ‘actor’. It was basic to getting that frenzied language of “Cross The Line”.

David Victori and Mario Casas

After your shorts and your first feature film, “The Pact” (2018), it’s clear that you go for  shady characters and people who surround themselves with murky, negative, manipulative people …

Yes, there’s something special about dealing with ordinary people who are suddenly pushed to the limit. I’m fascinated by human nature and how we sustain our moral principles in the most extreme of situations. In “Cross The Line”, Dani’s the perfect example of this.

Without Mario Casas, Dani wouldn’t be the ever-so powerful character we see on screen. What moved you to pick him?

To begin with, I’m very close to Oriol Paulo, who directed him in “The Invisible Guest” (2016), and he told me that Mario is the most obsessive actor about his work that you’ll ever meet. That was already a good starting point for me to build Dani. I’m also crazy about my work, and in Mario I’ve found that we fit like a comfortable pair of shoes, as they say. He’s another madman like me. With Milena, it was at the third casting that I was convinced that she had to play Mila. Following my intuition, Milena and I didn’t discuss her character, but instead I put some music on for her, we did some tantra meditation exercises … and bingo!, that was it! Once we had the two leading actors, he needed the producers to wholeheartedly trust in the project to death. And that’s exactly what happened.      

With “The Pact” you weren’t as lucky: ok, it did well at the box office, but it wasn’t as well-received by critics as “Cross The Line” was.

“The Pact” came on the heels of several projects that had fallen by the wayside over the years. It’s something that happens to all directors. To ensure that it didn’t go the same way, I made some concessions in “The Pact” at the level of the story and form. We made a few changes that ended up affecting the final result of the film, which left it sitting on the fence. That said, it did indeed do well at the box office, and it was profitable.

David Victori and Belen Rueda at “The Pact”

Let’s talk about your beginnings: why did you decide on cinema as a profession?

I was drawn towards cinema for one very instinctive reason, which is the need to tell stories. This was something I was already doing as a kid, with toy figures. One day I discovered that the cinema was the most fun game for allowing me to express myself. With other kids it might be music or drawing. Cinema’s like a drug: once you’ve tried it, you just can’t stop.

In 2015 you premiered the short “Zero” under the aegis of YouTube, and with Michael Fassbender as godfather and executive producer. I think that, as with “The Pact”, you weren’t entirely satisfied with the experience.

That’s true, it was a bittersweet experience. Not so much for the result as for the lack of implication on the part of YouTube, who ended up washing their hands of “Zero”. It was a nightmare.

You were a member of the writer’s room on the third season of the series “Comando Squad: Reset” (Flooxer). What attracted you to this young product?

I was coming out of “Cross The Lines”, and it seemed so alien getting involved in the screenwriting for “Reset”. In “Cross The Lines”, it was about constantly throwing Mario and Milena off center, and I accepted the challenge of “Reset” as long as I could also enjoy free reign to throw these YouTubers playing the leading roles into situations that they had no fucking idea what was going on. Once I’d done that, I left the producing in the hands of Mireia Noguera. Now I’m involved in another series, “Sky Rojo”, produced by the creators of “Money Heist” for Netflix. It stars Verónica Sánchez, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Lali Espósito, Enric Auquer, Yany Prado and Asier Etxeandia, among others and it’s about three prostitutes escaping from a strip joint.

Mario Casas and David Victori

“Sky Rojo” and the release of “Cross The Lines” both came into your life on the tails of the lockdown which you’ve gone on record as saying it wasn’t too bad for you. What was your secret?

I’m a very easygoing person, very Zen. Although it sounds a bit politically incorrect, I was happy during lockdown. I was in Madrid, working at home on several different projects.

Ok, so you give you carte blanche to pick any actors you like for your next film… Go!

Well…, Javier Bardem! And Mario Casas. There’s a guy who takes his profession to the very limit. He’s always looking to discover something new.

Pere Vall. Journalist covering the world of cultural and entertainment in general, specialized in cinema. Pere is a regular contributor to Time Out, Ara, RNE and Catalunya Ràdio, and was editor-in-chief of the magazine Fotogramas in Barcelona for more than 20 years. A fan of Fellini, of good, regular and bad horror movies, and of humor and comedy in general. As a child, he wanted to look like Alain Delon, and has ended with a certain resemblance to Chicho Ibáñez Serrador. Not that he’s complaining though.