Three Crucial Moments in the Process of Making A Fantastic Woman
by director/co-writer Sebastián Lelio
A Fantastic Woman started with one question: What would happen if the person you love dies in your arms, and your arms are the worst place for that person to die because for some reason you are the unwanted, the rejected one? Playing with different possible characters, the idea of this situation happening to a transgender woman popped up, that was the first important moment in the process. It felt like an electric shock. The idea sounded powerful, unexplored, and most importantly, full of danger: artistic, aesthetical, ethical dangers. And that was a good sign.
I lived in Berlin for a few years, so I was a bit detached from what was happening in my city, Santiago. My co-writer and I felt we needed to stop writing and encounter some transgender women. That's how we met Daniela Vega, who later became the star of the film. But back then I was just trying to understand if I really wanted to make this film; I was trying to get rid of cliched images in my head and my ignorance on the subject. I wasn't looking for an actress, I was just looking for advice! But that encounter with Daniela defined the project. After talking to her for two hours I was not only fascinated by her courage and beautiful presence; I understood that I was going to make this film and that I was not going to make it without a transgender actress. But since I wasn't looking for an actress, Daniela accepted to become a sort of cultural advisor for the project.
I went back to Berlin and for more than a year we talked about everything. She had no idea what we were writing about, but she was very generous and shared with us what being a transgender woman had meant for her in a country like Chile. We became friends. Somewhere, in the middle of the writing process, I came to the concept of doing a Trans-genre film about a trans-gender character. That was a second moment that defined the film. Suddenly the cinematic device that was being created seemed capable of resisting everything. In Spanish we use the same word to describe narrative genres and sexual identity: Género. So I was going to make a Trans-Género film. The film's own identity was going to be in flux, changing, resisting to be reduced to an easy label. It was going to flirt with elements of melodrama, romance, and thriller. It was going to be a ghost movie, a character study, a film about a woman... In that way, the film's fluidity in terms of genres was going to be intimately connected with its main subject of study: Marina. So the question "What is a woman?" lead to a new question, "What is a film?"
But I still needed an actress! And only close to having completed the first script draft I realized I didn't need to look any further. Daniela, my dear cultural advisor, my friend, was the perfect woman to interpret Marina. That was the third crucial moment that defined what the film was going to be. Daniela had some acting experience, was an opera singer student, was a force of nature, an artist. So I sent her the script and one question: "Would you like to play Marina?" She called back and asked me if was completely insane. Luckily, after three days, she said yes. Now at the center of this polymorphic, multi-tonal game of artifice there is a real beating heart: hers. "Fantastic" means "that which is the product of fantasy" but it means as well "that which has extraordinary properties." I hope the film leaves enough space for the spectator to decide in which way this woman is fantastic.