Interview by Roger Durling with Writer/Director Sebastián Lelio and Paulina Garcia
Durling: So Lelio, what inspired you to write this movie?
Lelio: Well, this movie started from the intuition that there was a potential film about a woman who belongs to my mother’s generation–even though Paulina is much younger.
Garcia: Not as much . . . (Laughter)
Lelio: And there was excitement that it could be a strong film, in a place where a film should not be, according to the cliché. A film about a lady of 58 or something didn’t really sound too appealing on paper. But for me and my co-writer, it was always very exciting because we thought that the little battles that Gloria was fighting every day were worthy of a film. And then that was mixed with the long desire to work with Paulina, so those two things got together.
Durling: So you wrote the piece with Paulina in mind?
Lelio: Oh, yes! It is written for her, like a glove. (Laughter)
Durling: Sebastian, I’m obsessed with the movie. But she is almost a supporting character, the way that she acts at the beginning and throughout the movie. She is not active, she is just reacting. Can you talk about that?
Lelio: In a way, the narrative that the film proposes is, exactly, to take a supporting character and to make her into an absolutely radical protagonist. So in a way, Gloria should be the character that in a normal film says goodbye to her son, and then the film goes on with the son. “Take care and put your seat belt on.” But here the camera stays with Gloria and insists on looking at the world through her eyes and from her point of view. And hopefully the spectator follows her in the journey from being a secondary character in her own life to becoming in charge and in a more central place.
Durling: And Paulina, when Sebastian first approached you, what did you think about Gloria and this film?
Garcia: Well, they found me. Sebastian and Gonzalo, the co-writer, invited me to be a part of the project from the very beginning. So I didn’t see a word written then. I was just invited to have a beer with them and talk about life and things from heaven, and hell, about life together on a very warm afternoon in Gonzalo’s house. So from then until I saw a script was almost two years. I was receiving news about the film and ideas that they had all the time. And they were telling me, “No, that is it. The script is over. But Gloria is still there, don’t worry we are going to work with you.” So what interested me was to get involved in the project from the very beginning. That was a talent for me. It was like I am a state actress and very close to doing theater.
Durling: And the same thought that I brought up to Sebastian, but from your point of view, what about the fact that she is always observing? In the beginning of the movie she is not actually doing, she is just observing the world around her. Was that something that was challenging for you?
Garcia: Yes, it was very hard. Because to be an actress is to be, how should I say, is to be Medea or Gertrude from Hamlet and do something, or kill somebody, or go to bed with somebody, find a new lover, or leave the kids. Do something, no? But it was a challenge because she was receiving all the time. All of the stories of the others were such good stories. Someone was going to get married, and the son was trying to have a life alone. His wife has left him and he has a baby that he has to take care of. And the friend is caring about the daughter that is going to get married. Her daughter is expecting a baby and she has a new boyfriend. So life around her is going so fast. And she is standing there, saying, “Well, what am I going to do? What am I supposed to do?” And she is considered to be in the autumn of life. But she doesn’t want to be in the autumn of life. She feels that spring is there and she wants to go for it.
Durling: Both of you, can you talk to us about the frankness in the sex? It is so refreshing and bold to see, two adult people in their 50s having sex.
Lelio: What is good is that it is like an issue. I understand, because we did it with that in mind. One of the duties or ethical issues of the film was to present those erotic scenes in a, hopefully, elegant but straightforward way, because in a way, the film is about the right to be alive and the right for pleasure at any age. So avoiding that would be unsafe. (Applause)
Durling: Paulina, how long was the rehearsal process before you started filming? And how long did it take to film the whole movie?
Garcia: Well, a proper rehearsal, we didn’t have. What we did was talk every day for two months before beginning to shoot. And those talks were by phone or in the presence of each other–or just, “Look, you have to see this movie, read this book, poetry essay,” something about how I have to get involved with the film. So we spent two months trying to understand each other and trying to build the bridge of trust for shooting the film, because it is a film with no big actions. It is a film about feelings.
Lelio: In a way, it was an all or nothing type of bet. We needed the performance to succeed. Otherwise, the film would not succeed. So we were in big trouble. We were taking care of each other, being alert, to make the film work.
Durling: Why did you make the choice of having no musical soundtrack? The sounds that we hear are the ones that she hears. Otherwise, what was the choice?
Lelio: I guess to create a contrast. If I had used a score all the time, then the music that came from within the scenes would not have been so strong. So when you have silence or direct sound, and suddenly music comes up naturally from stereos or because they are singing or in a discotheque, then you can really feel it naturally and also feel the inner sexual meaning that the song brings, as well as the emotions and the lyrics–how they compliment the story and how the characters are living.
Durling: Throughout the movie, there are talks about Chile. There is a dinner scene where you talk about the transformation of the country. And then there are the youth and you see the protest. Can either of you talk about that? I was feeling that Gloria is kind of representing the transformation of Chile.
Lelio: I mean, while you are making the film you cannot pretend to dare to think that. But secretly, you would like to create a character or film that resonates to that level. But for us it was always necessary to create a relationship, a resonance between Gloria’s own personal revolution and her struggle to be recognized, respected, and seen. With the more collective struggle that you can see in the backdrop of the film, the students protest in their conversations. That collective consciousness is also struggling to be recognized and respected. So for me it is the same energy, like future-oriented energy that merges in two different containers–Gloria, and I don’t know, the students.
Durling: Paulina, you won best actress–well deserved–in Berlin. The movie opened in Chile. How was it received in your country?
Garcia: Well, it went very well, even though the competition was hard with Iron Man 3. In every theater there were always almost 10 or 20 copies in the same place. Anyway, Gloria was still alive during the whole month or 2 months that it was being released. It went very well, and the people were so astonished by the film, they couldn’t believe that a film like that was being screened in Chile. But, also the people felt, I think women felt, “Yes, we are her.” It’s not like she was a new kind of woman. No! The women are there! And Sebastian put the camera on them and that’s the way that they felt about the movie I think. But, also I have to say, on Facebook, a young playwright posted to me, “Look, I am a thirty-year-old man. I am still young and a man, but I feel as Gloria.”
Durling: I wanted to ask you about the dinner sequence with the daughter and father. There is awkwardness between Gloria’s ex-husband and her daughter. Is there a way you can talk a little about that relationship?
Lelio: Yeah, I think the thing is that there are voids that the film proposes, and here is a void of information that I think you want to fulfill. That is the exact point of it. The film doesn’t waste energy trying to explain the reasons; it only observes the consequences. And you, as the spectator, are invited or forced to project your own imagination, feelings, thoughts, fantasies, over the projection of the film. So those two projections are the real film.
Garcia: But also there is a pedestrian side to the story. He got drunk. He is trying to get near to his daughter, and he has been away for a long time. He is just a little bit, “torpe,” clumsy, and she doesn’t want him. And that is a whole story, you understand?
Durling: And there are all of these beautiful symbols in the story–the cat and the albino peacock. Can you talk about what that means?
Lelio: For me, filmmaking is more of a question rather than an answer. I have no idea! For me there is a white mysterious family. The members of that family are the naked trembling cat, the dancing skeleton and albino peacock. They belong to the same family, but I have no idea what they are doing there.
Durling: What came first, the song or the movie?
Lelio: We had a triple problem–a very urgent one, because we were a month and a half away from starting to shoot, and we didn’t have the title of the film, the name of the character, and the final song. This was kind of scary because that song needed to be greater, in a way, than the rest. So that final sequence is like a manifesto for individual freedom. You needed something strong. The idea of calling the character Gloria appeared. We hesitated, but we played Umberto Tozzi, the writer of the original song that was popularized here by Laura Branigan, very loudly on the stereo–and that was it. We had the name for the character, and that was it!
Durling: Excellent, well thank you for being here and for coming!
Lelio and Garcia: Thank you!