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Q&A with Director Sebastián Lelio - A FANTASTIC WOMAN

A Fantastic Woman

With both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, A FANTASTIC WOMAN has certainly made a fantastic splash in the film world, and we at the Angelika were so pleased that its director, Sebastián Lelio, was able to stop by for a Q&A between his trips to Madrid and Los Angeles.

Previously known for his film GLORIA, Lelio wasn’t initially sure that he wanted to make A FANTASTIC WOMAN – he started the journey by seeking out someone who could advise him, and share with him a true tale of the transgender experience. He met the film’s lead, Daniela Vega, and they immediately clicked – he was fascinated by her – they discussed the intense challenges of the transgender experience in Chile, and almost immediately Vega brought up the fact that Chilean law does not allow her to change her name, forcing her to use an I.D. that still displays her dead-name (i.e. the name she was given at birth).

After their meeting, Lelio was convinced that he had to make this film, with the help of Vega’s experiential guidance. After working on the screenplay for a year, he was also convinced that Vega needed to star in the film. Though it was a challenge convincing her, Vega finally agreed. Lelio states, “I feel blessed… she brought so much beauty to the film.”

The critics certainly seem to agree – one says, “Vega brings a real power and torch-song majesty to her character’s story,” while another raves, “This film is a straightforward drama-with flourishes of surreal imagery-that’s anchored by a star-making performance. You cannot take your eyes off Daniela Vega, and you may get the sense she does not want you to.” The Wall Street Journal agrees, “What lifts argument into art is Ms. Vega’s performance,” and Rolling Stone says, “This indelibly moving film – Chile’s entry in the Oscar race for Best Foreign film – features a performance of surpassing beauty and tenderness from Daniela Vega, an openly transgender actress seizing her moment with stirring authenticity.”

Vega’s real life singing career influenced the film’s script, as Marina sings, and music plays a key role in the film- even though Vega had to work hard to convince Lelio that Marina should be an operatic singer instead of a pop singer. Lelio elaborates on that here:

Lelio states that he wanted to portray the transgender story in a new way, providing a fresh perspective, and experiementing – he wanted to “play with tonalities and genres,” he states, making the film “dreamy and hypnotic” with a certain “splendor,” unlike many of the stark portrayals seen in the past. “If you can provide a different angle,” Lelio states, “the spectator can make a click with that point of view, then their perspective of the subjects that the film is exploring … can become more complex.” Lelio has high hopes for the film’s societal impact, especially in Chile where there is practically zero representation of transgender people in media, other than, now, Daniela Vega. Transgender representation in media is lacking in the United States as well, which we explored through the lens of a few key contributors in our recent post, “The Window to Fantastic – Transgender Representation in A FANTASTIC WOMAN.”

Chilean lawmakers, after years of attempts to update their “identity laws” (which would allow transgender people to change their names and update their identification documents), at last took that law into the next phase on the same day that the Oscar nominations came out! Though this is a small step, Lelio hopes that there will be more positive developments to come, as they are so long overdue.

View the full Q&A here:

About the film:

Director Sebastián Lelio’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN is being heralded as “ravishing” by the Hollywood Reporter, and received both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Foreign Language Film. Waitress/singer Marina’s (Daniela Vega) world is shaken when Orlando suddenly falls ill and passes away. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, Marina is treated with suspicion and, as a transgender woman, is met with harsh judgment and discrimination by Orlando’s family. The struggles she faces in the aftermath of her lover’s death become a microcosm for her life, as she battles the very same forces that she has spent a lifetime fighting in order to become the woman she is – a complex, strong, forthright and fantastic woman.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN is now playing at the Angelika New York and Angelika Mosaic, and opens 2/23 at Angelika Dallas, Angelika Plano and Angelika Carmel Mountain