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NUNN ON ONE MOVIES Sebastian Lelio's 'Fantastic' project
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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The new movie A Fantastic Woman stars Chilean transgender actress Daniela Vega, who plays Marina, the survivor of the death of her lover, Orlando. His family wants her to just go away quietly while she wants to fight for the right to mourn Orlando in this unpredictable story about discrimination.

This movie is currently nominated for an Oscar after the recent Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film. Diversity has increased in the 90th Academy Awards with A Fantastic Woman along with Strong Island's Yance Ford being the first transgender director of a film to be nominated for an Oscar. Call Me By Your Name leads the LGBT pack of films with four nominations.

Windy City Times called the director of A Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio, to discuss the creation of the film and his growing career.

Windy City Times: Hi, Sebastian. With you being the screenwriter, talk about the creation of A Fantastic Woman.

Sebastian Lelio: At the very beginning, it was a story about what would happen if the person you love dies in your arms. It would feel like the worst place in the world.

In the process of scriptwriting, the idea of this happening to a transgender woman popped up. That was an important moment in the process. I stopped writing because I don't live in Santiago. I live in Germany. I didn't know any transgender people in Santiago. I had the intuition that things had evolved, but I wanted to get rid of my ignorance and see who was out there.

When we were looking for a consultant we found Daniela Vega. I wanted to learn what a transgender woman in contemporary Santiago was like. I was immediately fascinated by Daniela. I really liked her. She generously accepted to become our consultant and friend who we could talk to during the writing process.

When I finished the first draft, I realized I wanted to make the film, but not without a transgender actress. My dear cultural advisor was going to be the star of the film!

So that is how it happened. It was very organic. I didn't do casting or anything. It was always her, even when I didn't know it at the beginning.

WCT: Was it difficult to obtain the rights for "( You Make Me Feel Like ) A Natural Woman" to be played in the movie?

SL: We had to pay. It wasn't particularly difficult, but not cheap either. It was important for me to have it. I love the song. It is straight forward in the way it is used. That is exactly what I like about it.

WCT: I saw Diabla is really the dog's name in the credits. How did the dog factor into the movie?

SL: We wanted to thank her especially. I really like animals in films. Every chance I have to incorporate animals I do it. They have a pure presence and it is like great acting.

In terms of the narrative, it is a necessary element because it was the only thing that she wanted to keep of his. It is not material, but more than that, more than his car or anything like that. The dog is the only thing that doesn't judge her in the film. It hit me at a film festival and it made me sad. Everyone was so unraveled by her presence except for the dog. It was devastating because we can't even be like dogs. I started to look at it with a different light and thought, "We can at least be like dogs can't we? Come on!"

WCT: When Marina is jumping on top of the car, was that her Jurassic Park moment?

SL: [Laughs] I had never thought of that. That might be triggered because there is a presence of dinosaurs in the story. In the restaurant where she works the walls have dinosaurs.

The question is who are the dinosaurs? Who is the more evolved force? Maybe the dinosaurs are the ones inside the car.

WCT: I love that. What was the idea behind the taping of her face?

SL: I was looking for an original solution for the kidnapping moment. I wanted them to be very aggressive but not leave any marks. I thought deforming her face with Scotch Tape was a way to do that.

The whole scene is a projections of projections. You are seeing the secondary characters judging Marina. By doing that they don't reveal anything about her, but instead reveal aspects about themselves. We are projecting our own fears, desires, and fantasies upon them. We are judging everyone as well.

Sometimes Marina looks directly in the lens, maybe asking the spectators what they see. What are they projecting?

In that sense the formation of the Scotch Tape sequence is playing with that idea. That is what they see when they look at her, a deformed monster.

WCT: What would you like to see audiences get out of A Fantastic Woman?

SL: I want a strong cinematic experience. I want people to see a film, not a moral lesson or a cause film that will teach them something. If that happens that is one of the layers of it.

I wanted to make a genre film about a transgender character. It is really like a complex animal that operates in different directions. It flirts with different genres. It's a romantic movie that becomes a thriller, that becomes a character study. It has elements of fantasy, then becomes a ghost film. The film's own identity is in flux. It is deeply connected to it's subject of style, to Marina.

I hope the journey is intense enough for the spectator to go, "What was that?" in a good way when the film finishes. It offers enough space for viewers to step into everyone's shoes and to analyze the challenge from every possible angle. They can decide where they stand.

Besides that it offers the opportunity to connect with Marina. Despite your beliefs or political positions or what you think about sexual minorities, the film offers you a chance to empathize with Marina. Maybe after seeing the movie they will have empathy in places they didn't know they had.

WCT: What films do you have coming out next?

SL: I made a movie with with Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams called Disobedience. It is coming out in April.

WCT: I interviewed Rachel Weisz last year for a different film. How was it working with her?

SL: She was amazing. She's a magnificent actress. I really admire her. She is a producer of the film as well and had the rights to the book. She was always attached to the project and was the main reason for me to say yes.

I just finished shooting a new version of my film Gloria with Julianne Moore. It was a joyful experience and will come out towards the end of the year. I am remaking my own film. It is like a cover of my own song!

A Fantastic Woman opens in Chicago on Friday, Feb. 9.

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