Cross The Line (No matarás)has its UK première at Grimmfest Easter Edition 2022
At the beginning of Cross The Line, directed by David Victori (The Pact, 2018), we see (and hear, breathing heavily) an old, invalid man (Miquel Bordoy) attached to a heart monitor and lying in a hospital bed set up in his living room. Given that the film’s original Spanish title No matarás means literally ‘thou shalt not kill’, we might be expecting the younger man in the room to be about to ‘cross the line’ and perform a morally dubious mercy killing – but in fact good, pious Daniel Aranda Celaya (Mario Casas) has put his own life on hold for many years to look after his father, and the only contribution that Dani is making to his father’s imminent demise is to have kept indulging his express demands for cigarettes, despite their obvious causal connection to his respiratory problems. A decade of bedside attendance means that Dani himself has led an existence of self-denial: unlike his father, he does not smoke, nor drink, nor have room for a sexual partner – and although, to make ends meet, he works part-time as a travel agent, he has never had opportunity to pursue any travels of his own. So when his father does die, Dani, though certainly grieving, has also been liberated – and his sister Laura (Elisabeth Larena), an overworked lawyer, buys him a Round the World air ticket, in keeping with his father’s final wishes that his son should ‘fly’.
“The condition is you have to travel in the same direction, always forward, never backwards,” Dani tells Laura of the ticket. “Once you start, you can’t stop,” says Mila (Milena Smit) of Dani’s first tattoo (the word ‘fly’), which she has given him shortly after a meet-cute in a burger bar as he was contemplating which international destination should be his first. After a night on the town with this impulsive young seductress, Dani finds himself in her apartment, telling her, “If I keep drinking, I’m going to get really drunk.” All three of these lines hint at the narrative trajectory of Cross The Line, where actions have consequences, small decisions lead to big ramifications, and once a course has been set, there can be no turning back. For “fucking crazy” Mila is a femme very much of the fatale variety, mercurial, manipulative and deceitful – and as she guides the innocent, inexperienced Dani through a night of something wild, trouble is about to come banging on the door. Soon our mild, bespectacled hero will be walking around with his glasses cracked like the protagonist of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) – and similarly headed down a panicky one-way path to violence and murder.
Dani is indeed on a journey, and thanks to cinematographer Elías M. Félix’s preference for close handheld shots that track Dani from behind, the audience is made to feel every sweaty beat of this spiralling trip into hell. Cross the Line will end as it began, with Dani by a hospital bed – except that in the few days that have passed between these two parallel scenes, Dani has irrevocably changed. For Dani has lived out all his wild years over a single night with Mila, and is now struggling to pick up the pieces and vainly to reintegrate the previous life that he has left behind, perhaps forever. And so Victori’s neon-lit neo noir offers an itinerary for the tense descent – more falling than flying – of an arrested man learning too late that simple choices can rapidly lead to life-or-death situations and moral undoing.
strap: David Victori’s tense Barcelona-set neo-noir tracks an innocent man’s moral descent over one long night with a femme fatale
© Anton Bitel