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LOCARNO 2022 Competition

Valentin Merz • Director of De noche los gatos son pardos

"I wanted the actors and their characters to have enough space to explore their own desires"

by 

- With his debut feature, the Swiss filmmaker brings us into a mysterious world of desire, revolt and lightness

Valentin Merz • Director of De noche los gatos son pardos
(© Andrea Film)

De noche los gatos son pardos [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Valentin Merz
film profile
]
by Valentin Merz, selected in the international competition of the Locarno Film Festival and winner of a ​​Swatch First Feature Special Mention, isn’t just a thriller. Rather, it is a sensorial trip that transforms sesuality into poetry and the drama of life into benevolent and humorous lightness. We met him during his premiere at the festival.

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Cineuropa: How did you work on the construction of the script? What is the common thread, the soul of the film?
Valentin Merz:
Although it isn’t really resolved at the end of the film, the police storyline can be considered the narrative thread of the film. From my point of view, the last conversation that the inspector has with one of the actresses, in front of a cinema, is essential. When he says that everyone would like to know what happened with Valentin, the actress replies: “yes, yet at the same time, we will all disappear one day.” For me, this answer is one of the keys of the film. The main issue isn’t with the police investigation, but everywhere else.

I hope people feel the desire that I feel for these characters, the actors and the actresses of the film. Even though I’m talking about profound subjects like love, sexuality and death, I wanted to imbue the film with a kind of lightness that I claim. The way in which I approach these topics reflects my view of the world. I try to accept the fatality of death, the fugacity of life which, beyond the story, is one of the true threads of the film. I really hope the audience has fun watching my film. I am convinced that we can be at once deep and light, intense and funny.

What relationship do you have with your actors?
For the actors, they all find themselves in front of the camera at a certain point, even those who usually stay behind: the director, the DoP and all the other team members. Turning the shoot, we all shared our meals, we slept in the same house, we formed a kind of community. As for the device that frames the scenes, we more or less knew what would happen but there was no precise pre-established dialogue. For instance, for the interrogation scenes we began with a long shot. I was giving the detective and the gendarmes a series of questions to ask and to the people being interrogated, some clues as to their answers or an attitude to have in front of the police, but they didn’t know what the others would say. Consequently, it was like a real interrogation. In a second time, we did closer shots where we staged things that had been said spontaneously during the first take, but it was also an opportunity to slide in information that was needed for the construction of the narrative.

When choosing the actors, it was essential for me to work with people who had very different cultural baggage. I hope this heterogeneity comes through in the film.

You make a connection between the theories of Félix Guattari and the director's work with his cast. Could you elaborate on this?
I hesitate a lot to cite Guattari because I don’t want to put the world of cinema and that of psychiatry in parallel. According to him, one of the main problems of the psychiatric institution is its hierarchical structure and the fact that patients need to gain confidence by receiving responsibilities. So he imagined a different approach: the patients would cook for their carers, drive them, do their chores and would stage plays… This approach gave me the idea of implicating the cast and crew beyond the tasks that are generally attributed to them. Even if that didn’t facilitate our organisation, the impact of the shoot was extremely positive. The team felt more involved and uninhibited; the hierarchies and demarcations that can exist on a set were flattened out.

For this film’s dynamic, it was very important for everyone to wear different hats. Even if there were some potentially complicated people, the structure that was set up prevented them from being so. I too was doing things beyond my directing tasks, and I think that really helped to uninhibit the whole team.

What role does sexuality play in your film? Can we, from that point of view, define your film as militant?
I really like that you talk about activism but what is really important for me is to diversify representations of sexuality: the mini bondage scene, objectophilia or romantic and passionate lesbian and gay sex scenes. I wanted the actors and their characters to have enough space to explore their own desires. I wanted to celebrate sexuality.

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(Translated from French)

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