• First Film Competition



Mario Valero

The story of Cross Words is based on a news item, which quickly becomes a pretext for a sensitive, sensual portrait of a generation represented by two main characters, Pierre and Mila, and a group of thirty-somethings. They’re journalists, teachers, carpenters and artists, between Paris, Marseille and Brussels. Valero portrays fragments of everyday life, interweaving them with impressionistic urban and bucolic slivers. The noise of the world in the background – distant rumbles from the street, visual echoes of demonstrations, snippets of news, presidential speeches – marks the passing of time. We don’t really know if it’s a good idea to split up. We don’t really know where to live. “Why do we walk on eggshells when it comes to politics?” An opening shot lingers on a computer screen where the right word is being sought, just as the camera, agile, seems to be seeking the best distance between zooming in and out. Emotional ups and downs come along one after another without narrative emphasis. Severe editing curtly interrupts both the parties and the characters’ private conversations: Cross Words is careful not to let anything unfold or take root in scenes framed on bodies. This fragmentation encapsulates a muted uncertainty, expressing a fluctuating and confused world. Inspired by the New Wave, and mastering its codes and motifs brilliantly, Cross Words remains a proudly enigmatic film, however, offering no message to explain itself. It portrays an emotional landscape in autumnal colours, symptomatic of leaves turning and a sadness deepened by exquisite polyphonic singing in a wistful key. What remains, inherent, are the faces, the friends and loved ones, gathered by Valero in close, caressing shots like a bunch of flowers we know will wither and fade.
(Claire Lasolle)

Interview with Mario Valero

After Rodeo, a short film, you continue your work on the film diary with Cross Words, chronicling a group of friends. What was your intention?

I have been filming my day-to-day life for a long time with a small miniDV camera. I edited Rodeo from the 2018 tapes. Initially, I wanted to continue the film diary work and began editing the 2019 rushes. At the same time, I started working on an idea for a film around the wireless telephone game – Arabic telephone (or Chinese whispers, but I don’t like that term), where characters tell each other a story that changes over the course of several months. Gradually, the two projects became one film.

Cross Words begins with a news story in the Spring of 2019, the main thread of the film, but focuses more on the portrait of this young generation. How did you develop the script?

I had a script based on the telephone game, starting with the news item that opens the film. I had described various situations and written a few lines about each character, and I wanted to actually play the game with the actors and write on that basis. But before I had time to organise these work sessions, we found ourselves locked down. With Élise Vilain Gosselin and Hugues Perrot, we played the game remotely, on the phone, then in writing. This provided a basis for writing the script.

Cross Words is a group film, directed by your friends as well, who were doing various different jobs – actors and technicians. How did you develop the film together behind and in front of the camera ?

In the end, everyone had a hand in the script and important decisions were discussed collectively. Almost all the characters are played by members of the team, so the technical roles also rotated, we taught each other the technical skills. I don’t know if you can say that this is a group film, but we made it as collectively as possible, in a constant to-and-fro between the team and myself. We shot between the summer of 2020 and summer 2021, almost always in the chronological order of the narrative. A few months before the first shoot, we did a group reading of the script, but then, during rehearsals, we worked without a script. We left room for improvisation and tried to establish the points at which the characters would meet.

From 2019 to 2021, France was experiencing a peculiar time, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, which was followed through the radio. Did you also want to document an era?

No, I wouldn’t say so, the news appears in the film in the same way as the lives of the characters: fragmentary, elliptical, skewed. The radio and the newspapers were very important for the writing of the film, but also during the preparation of each filming session. We were immersing ourselves in our past and playing at being someone else in our lives of a year ago. A kind of double projection, in fiction and in the past. In December 2020, during the second lockdown, we shot scenes that took place during the strikes against the pension reform. And in March, after a year of the pandemic, we tried to get back to the state of mind of the days before the first lockdown.

The camerawork is impressive – zooming in and out, fragmenting faces, capturing fleeting moments. What were your pictorial choices?

Cross Words mixes images I shot in 2019 and 2020 with the fictional scenes I shot a year later, with the same two miniDV cameras. I held one and Raimon Gaffier held the other. With Raimon, we tried to find, by filming fiction, the look of the filmed diary shots, to confront this documentary gaze with situations where the camera would not normally have had access. The camera is far away, in long focus, as if it cannot hear what the characters are saying. Sometimes we would start with documentary shots that I had taken a long time before and we would shoot the continuation of this situation, or a reverse angle shot. We revisited the period of the story, trying to keep the viewpoint of someone filming his friends on any given day, adapting and trying to forget the fictional part. So, we shot in natural light and always played the scenes from beginning to end, without cutting. With the length of the takes, by holding the camera, we often became yet another character.

The shots are often very short with sharp cuts. How did you decide on the editing with Léo Richard?

The work with Léo began long before we finished shooting the film. Contrary to a classic fiction edit based on continuity, we wanted to work on each shot as material in its own right, as a unit of time. And so each cut was like an ellipse. The film became porous, the holes made the film dense and allowed us to go in and out of it, to cling to it. In the sound editing, with Théophile Gay-Mazas, we reaffirmed this fragmentary and discontinuous form of storytelling, by putting his camera before the direct sound recording. As a result, even in the close-ups, we can hear words being spoken in the distance through the camera, reverberating in the space, sometimes deliberately inaudible.

As the title points out, the word is at the centre of the film. How did you envisage it?

After Rodeo, a quasi silent film, I wanted to work on the spoken word and more specifically the way we tell stories: how a story changes according to who tells it or how we listen to it, how one story hides another. I wanted to work on stories that change from one character to another, at the same time as the characters themselves and the world around them changes too. Each character and each situation has its own form of speech, its own words, its own gaps. The stories, like the words of a language, are the trace, the translation or the variation of something past. Everything is erased or transformed over time, like a translation, hence the inclusion of scenes in Castilian and Catalan and the recurring song in Occitan. The making of the film itself revolved around this idea of permanent transformation, highlighting the fact that the past escapes us and that we are obliged to fill in what is missing, or to accept the gaps left by time. By always shooting a year later, by spacing out the shoots, we had to go backwards to move forward. By working without a script in the rehearsals until we rediscovered the scene in a different light; by breaking up the continuity of the shooting in the editing, it were as if each stage were a commentary on the previous one.

Interview by Olivier Pierre

  • First Film Competition

Technical sheet

France / 2022 / 80’

Original version : french, spanish, catalan, occitan
Subtitles : english
Script : Mario Valero
Photography : Raimon Gaffier, Mario Valero
Editing : Léo Richard
Sound editing : Théophile Gay-Mazas
Music : Cocanha
Sound : Ona Balló Pedragosa
Casting : Élise Vilain Gosselin, Hugues Perrot, Judit Naranjo Ribó, Marius Loris, Clémence Arrivé, Lisa Merleau, Raimon Gaffier, Júlia Losada Alsina

Production : Lisa Merleau (LLUM), Jordane Oudin (Hippocampe Productions).

Filmographie : Rodeo, 2019.