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NUNN ON ONE: MOVIES Sebastian Lelio on helming 'Disobedience,' 'A Fantastic Woman'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2018-05-08

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A new movie called Disobedience is in theaters now, and has an intriguing storyline. 

A woman name Ronit Krushka ( Rachel Weisz ) returns to the Orthodox Jewish community in North London after her rabbi father passes away. The story heats up when a romance sparks up with childhood friend Esti Kuperman ( Rachel McAdams ).

Director Sebastian Lelio is on his own hot streak after his trans film A Fantastic Woman won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year. Following Disobedience, he is releasing a reimagining of his 2013 film Gloria. 

.Windy City Times: How has your life changed since we talked last [when talking about A Fantastic Woman]?

Sebastian Lelio: .The main difference is I won an Oscar, apart from that, it's the same. I feel very lucky because it's a time of working a lot. I just went right back to work! I am editing the new version of Gloria. 

Strangely enough, I was in Chile, even though I live in Berlin. It has been interesting to be there after the Oscar, because over there it was a big deal. 

WCT: Where are the awards that you won for A Fantastic Woman located?

SL: I have some of them with me, like the Spirit Award, the Goya Award and the Oscar, because I took them on one trip. That suitcase was like the one in Pulp Fiction, and really loaded! 

WCT: has there been much difference with working with bigger names and big budgets?

SL: I have had the chance to work with great people. They are so talented and it was the ideal situation. 

Making Disobedience with the two Rachels and Alessandro Nivola was a luxury. 

WCT: How long have you been directing?

SL: My first film came out in 2006. It has been 12 years. 

WCT: Was it hard to break into [U.S.] audiences?

SL: Yes and no. Yes, because it took awhile. No, because I never wanted to. It wasn't part of my plan. I didn't have a plan and just wanted to make films. After the first Gloria things changed. I was suddenly being offered to direct things in English. I was lucky because after that happened I got involved in Disobedience, then I made the new version of Gloria. 

Those two things happened before the Oscar. 

WCT: How would you describe Disobedience to people who haven't seen it?

SL: It is a forbidden love story between two women in the context of a Jewish Orthodox community in North London. 

WCT: How was working with the Jewish community?

SL: We were very lucky because we found a lot of support and generous people that were willing to help. We worked with several consultants during the writing process and even more during production. We had quite a good number of allies. 

Without them, it would have been impossible to get the cultural texture right. 

WCT: Well, your consultant for A Fantastic Woman turned out to the be the star. 

SL: The consultant is the secret! I'm interested in people and how they live. I am not trying to create an artificial world. I want to get it right. 

In the case of A Fantastic Woman it's a very artificial film, but she is real. 

WCT: Describe filming that intense sex scene in Disobedience.

SL: It was delicate, but at the same time it was part of a conversation that took place very organically. I always knew that was the heart of the film. That scene needed to be long. It was all about how they were feeling. I was trying to achieve a certain level of eroticism without nudity. I became obsessed with that paradox. 

It was more about the specificities of what they were doing while the camera was centered mainly on their faces. The spectator would be actively filling in the blanks of what is out of frame. You are fantasizing but, at the same time, close to what they are feeling because you are watching their faces. 

WCT: That's a great approach. 

SL: Well, we have access to everything these days and nothing impresses us anymore. To make something erotic again is a big challenge for a filmmaker. 

WCT: How did you make the Rachels feel comfortable?

SL: I storyboarded the entire scene. We had a private conversation where I went over the plan and if they were okay with it. They mentioned the spit thing. They were laughing and nervous, but they got it. They agreed to do it. 

They understood what was behind it. It is not about pleasing the male gaze. It's about placing the camera for them more than for me. 

WCT: How did you know you wanted to cast these two women in these roles?

SL: It is just like channeling. I accepted to do this film because of Rachel Weisz. I loved the story, but because she was there that was my main reason for doing it. 

Who could be Esti was a huge question. I always thought Rachel McAdams was the one. I liked how unexpected the choice was. I liked the fact that we could see her in this register where we hadn't seen her doing something like this before. It going through the entire emotional spectrum and a big dramatic role for her. She has so much inner joy and light that it made it fascinating to hide that behind the wigs and unflattering clothes. It's impossible to suppress the joy of Rachel McAdams.

WCT: Was there any wig drama?

SL: This film was secretly about hair! There were wigs, beards and a lot of hair. 

WCT: What do you want audiences to take away from the film?

SL: A strong experience. I want them to go on an emotional journey when visiting an unknown world. 

WCT: How was working with Julianne Moore, in Julia? 

SL: It was great to see her bring that character back to life. She was amazing. It was nice to have a new vehicle to show what was universal to that story with a new context and time. 

Suddenly, the story about a woman who wants to keep dancing is perfect! 

Disobedience is currently playing locally at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, AMC River East 21, Archlight Chicago 14 and Century Evanston.


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