Sebastián Lelio: “Florence Pugh gives you the feeling that she has already done everything despite her youth”

He does not like to be defined as a director of women’s stories, but Few authors have spoken so much and so well about women in the last decade as the Chilean Sebastián Lelio. The Oscar winner by a fantastic woman opens today in Netflix his first film for a streaming platform. The Prodigy is the adaptation of a bestseller by Emma Donoghue about an English nurse, played by the omnipresent Florence Pughwho must discover how it is possible that a girl who lives in a strict religious community has not eaten for weeks and her body has not yet shown any sequelae.

Lelio has worked on his first film in four years with Alice Birchscreenwriter of Lady Macbeth and series like succession Y normal people. Move The Prodigy to the screen had its own challenges. “Adapting is always a process that can be brutal, because they are different media. The literary has no real place in the cinema”, admits the filmmaker from a hotel in San Sebastián while giving the vast world of thoughts of the protagonist, Lib Wright, as an example. “While she picks up a spoon, four pages can go by where things happen that cannot be filmed.”

The Prodigy It is not the first film adaptation of a work by the Irish writer. The room, by Lenny Abrahamson, gave the Oscar to actress Brie Larson. Of all the layers that Donoghue’s novel has, Lelio felt very interested in “reflection around the clash of the belief system” arises in this story set in the Irish region of the Midlands during the year 1862.

The film opens when English nurse Lib Wright is hired to travel to a remote town to observe Anna O’Donnell, an 11-year-old girl who, despite not having eaten for weeks, is miraculously still alive and well. Tourists and pilgrims gather to contemplate a mystery that responds to only two possibilities: a miracle that “survives with manna from heaven” or a much more sinister truth.

According to Lelio, the protagonist of The Prodigy it is “a rationalist who thinks she will unmask the hoax in 10 minutes”. That immediate response doesn’t come, so the nurse connects and becomes obsessed with the girl. “There is a kind of sisterhood between them despite all the distances.” The most important is that the reason Lib Wright is in that remote Irish town is to keep an eye on the girl.

[Sebastián Lelio: “Hay fascismos de extrema derecha y de extrema izquierda”]

“What matters is the narrative they want to defend from a narrative war over who controls what things mean. The Prodigy He talks about the power of fiction and the story for political power, to define what things are and what name we give them”. This is how the Latin American director explains what is behind his first collaboration with Netflix, a film that has been presented at the Toronto and San Sebastián festivals.

What matters is the narrative they want to defend from a narrative war over who controls what things mean. ‘The Prodigy’ talks about the power of fiction and story for political power

“For me the heart of the story is the tension between science and fanaticism”, explains SERIES & MORE. In a film where faith is so important, Lelio dares to play with a concept with multiple meanings in today’s polarized world. “The fanatic is one who has found a truth and acts from there. He prefers to twist reality to suit his reading.

The character played by Florence Pugh represents the scientific method in fiction. “It works backwards. At the heart of Lib is the question and the doubt. Unlike her fanaticism, she is able to transcend her own system, her own map and operate beyond reason. I thought that made her a great character and, at the same time, a better movie.

Still from ‘The Prodigy’, by Sebastián Lelio.

Director of disobediencea story that already spoke of faith from the experience of two orthodox Jewish women, acknowledges that what interested him personally was “making a film where we could also talk about the film as a problem in hypnotic fiction in which the viewer will believe . It seems important to me to remind the viewer that he is believing and using the same mechanism that the characters are using to believe in whatever it is that they believe.

The Prodigy asks the viewer a question as simple as transcendental: what do you believe in? For this reason, the adaptation of Donoghue’s novel plays with an original resource that breaks the fourth wall and that will disconcert users who approach this suggestive period drama, available today on Netflix.

The filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, at the last San Sebastián Festival.

The filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, at the last San Sebastián Festival.

Lelio took advantage of the extensive research work that Donoghue had previously done, Irish as the film’s own setting. “Emma came from doing The room, so I was very open to finding the solutions that would allow me to make the film that I felt had to be made”. According to the director it was “a long process, but very organic”. The director and screenwriter is full of praise for his collaborators. “It has been interesting working with two women on this story about two women”.

Since the success of Glory in 2013, the Chilean has spent the last ten years telling women’s stories, although he clearly doesn’t feel too comfortable with that label. “I really have a hard time answering when they ask me about it., because it is not something that arises in a calculated way”, he insists. Everything changed for the director when he decided to tell the story of “a middle-aged woman who did not deserve to be in the center according to the standards of those years.” What in any other film would have been a secondary character, in the hands of Lelio became an absolute protagonist that he gave to paulina garcia the acting award at the Berlin Festival.

“I feel challenged and honored to make these portraits, hopefully three-dimensional or multidimensional, with their lights and shadows, of these characters who operate in the tension between individual freedom and the mandate of the community and who are willing to pay the price for exercising their freedom despite what is said”, confesses the 48-year-old director when he tries to explain why he decided to tell the story of a woman that the world has forgotten about after 50, a trans woman who yearns for freedom or two Orthodox Jewish women who yearn to escape the limits imposed on them by their community.

“I am privileged to be able to continue telling these stories, even if I do not only seek to talk about women. Ideally, there are also more female directors telling women’s stories and the issue is expanded rather than restricted.”

I am privileged to be able to continue telling these stories, even if I don’t just want to talk about women. Ideally, there will also be more female directors telling women’s stories and the issue should be expanded rather than restricted.

Florence Pugh did not think about Lelio’s offer for too long, a director specialized in creating irresistible characters for women. “He really liked the script and said yes quickly. It was one of those moments where you say: ‘eureka!’”, recalls the Chilean. Having one of the most requested actresses of the moment in Hollywood, nominated for an Oscar for little women and one of the promises of the new generation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, removes any trace of doubt about the project. “That meant we had a movie,” not just because of the financing, but because of everything that Lib Wright’s character implied and demanded.

According to the director, Miss Flo, the nickname Olivia Wilde gave her during the controversial production of Do not worry dear, “it gives you the feeling that he has already done everything and that he is back despite his youth”. Pugh will premiere in 2023 Oppenheimer the sequel to Dune directed by Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve. “He has a character, an authority and an integrity that comes very naturally.”, highlights Lelio of an actress who was discovered by the industry in 2016 when starring in the intriguing Lady Macbeth, presented for competition in San Sebastián. That year the British visited the city of San Sebastian, but in 2022 she was unable to do so because she was shooting the fantasy blockbuster in Budapest.

Florence Pugh in a frame from 'The Prodigy'.

Florence Pugh in a frame from ‘The Prodigy’.

For Lelio it was essential to have a great actress because “The Prodigy It is precisely a film in which the viewer is invited to accompany her and make the journey with her character”. Said and done. Pugh arrived on the set with his homework done and from there the work between director and performer “was a process of building from there upwards, looking for the subtleties of the character and the story.” Critics’ reaction has already placed her work in this film as one of the best performances by an actress who, despite being barely 26 years old, is at an extraordinary moment in her career.

The life of the Chilean director changed forever after winning the Oscar with a fantastic woman, a film that opened the doors of Hollywood for her thanks to its humanist and pioneering portrayal of the experience of a trans woman who dreams of living a normal life. From there they came Gloria Bella reinterpretation of Gloria herself that came out ahead after Julianne Moore fell in love with Paulina García’s show-off vehicle, and disobedienceanother story of women yearning for freedom that afforded her the opportunity to work with Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams.

The last star to declare her obsession with Lelio’s look was Scarlett Johansson, although their collaboration is not yet official. “I don’t know what the next project I’m going to do is, but at least it seems that I won’t be short of work,” celebrates a director who insists that he wants to continue shooting in Spanish and in Chile. “I like the idea of ​​coming and going. I ‘ve been very lucky. Being able to choose what one wants to do is a very fortunate position. The only thing I asked of the universe is to be able to continue filming”. Wish fulfilled.

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Sebastián Lelio: “Florence Pugh gives you the feeling that she has already done everything despite her youth”