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Gloria Bell: An Interview with Sebastián Lelio
June 11, 2019
It’s pretty risky business to do a remake, even more so if it’s your own film. Or maybe not if the result is an equally impressive one, like Gloria Bell. Director Sebastián Lelio rises to the challenge of remaking his own 2013 Spanish speaking, Santiago set Gloria starring Paulina Garcia reinterpreting it to current day LA with all its hipster trimmings, starring Julianne Moore as Gloria Bell.
A 50-something Gloria navigates the precarious realms of singledom, dating, motherhood, work, friendship and every other aspect of her everyday life. A character usually consigned to supporting roles; caring, subdued, often silent with a hint of a colourful inner word, Lelio thrusts her front and centre. Continuous interconnected episodic glimpses into Gloria’s life, tinted by the warm yellow brushes of a permeating Californian sun, quietly emerges a stealthy spirit reluctant to be relegated to the side-lines and instead is persistently curious to fully explore love and life, at whatever price.
We had the chance to chat with Lelio to tell us more about his remake, having previously interviewed him last year for his superb A Fantastic Woman, right before it won the Oscar for Best Foreign film.
Since the last time I interviewed you for A Fantastic Woman a lot has changed.
Yes, right before I was about to start on filming A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience back to back, was when I met Julianne first, but I couldn’t do it then as I was committed to starting those two films. Then again for me it made a lot of sense to do a film in Spanish which was A Fantastic Woman and another in English (Disobedience), but a new one not a remake of a previous film. I thought that I had to be at a place where I could feel like I was experienced enough or authorised enough you could say to do that. To afford the luxury of revisiting your own material.
Did you feel any risk with revisiting your own material? Things getting lost in translation not just with language but also with the original’s concept?
Well there are lots of risks. Super risky. I mean, why mess up a film that already worked first time round? I had lots of fears, but then what was really mobilising was precisely that…. it was an artistic challenge to bring the film to back life. Make it alive, vibrant and hopefully relevant again with the current times. When the first Gloria came out I think it was a little bit ahead of its time in terms of the public discussion of women at the center of things.
I believe you cannot remake a film, you can only make a film. That’s what I learned. You are working with new actors, light technicians etc or your running behind schedule, all these different situations that can arise, at that moment you just have to make it work. The fact that you explored it before helps a little a bit but at the end of the day you are making a new film.
The original Gloria came out on 2013, a while before the #metoo movement.
Yes early 2013. The Weinstein stuff was in 2017. I was already in LA at the time shooting Gloria Bell when all that happened. In the time that I made A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience the world seemed to have shifted 180 degrees towards the middle ages. I felt suddenly to tell a story in the United States about a woman who claims her right to be seen to live her life fully and with pleasure, suddenly became urgent. It had some renewed relevance.
Watching the film, I felt that each scene was succinct and episodic. I got the sensation that I was dropping in and out of Gloria’s life.
Well yes, the episodic nature of the film became stronger this time. It was made in these capsules of time that can stand on their own and that resonate with other scenes. That’s how this particular version of the story is told.
How involved was Julianne Moore with the project?
Working with Julianne was really great, because she was very committed from the very beginning and she was a big defender of Gloria as a character. We were always exchanging different versions of the script with each other. It was all very fluid. It was great to see her channel Gloria. I remember being in wardrobe, we were trying out looks and I remember from the first time, she did something with her hair and then she put on her dress and then there were like 20 pairs of glasses and she chose one, it didn’t work, then an another one and pop… there was Gloria Bell. It was magic!
Whose idea was it to do the remake?
When Julianne and I first met, there was this funny misunderstanding. I was told she loved the original film and wanted to meet with me but didn’t want anything to do with a remake, which made sense. I wasn’t necessarily interested in making a remake of my own film either. When we met, she talked passionately with great depth about Gloria and the character. I was really touched by that. At the end of the meeting, I told her ‘Thank you, it’s been an honour. I totally get it that you don’t want to do a remake’ and she said ‘No, I would only do it if you direct it’ and I immediately replied ‘I would only do it if you’re in it’.
That’s where Gloria Bell comes from… a place of enthusiasm and admiration. It’s as simple as that. Then of course, I had tons of fears, I resisted, but then I realized that’s because again it was dangerous… challenging. And if I survived all those challenges it would be quite interesting as an experiment because you can think of this as revisiting an already known territory, but nothing guarantees that you would be able to replicate the same success.
Did you ever live in LA?
In the original, Santiago felt like a protagonist in the film. I’m guessing being Chilean, its a place you are familiar with. I felt that you captured the same sensation with LA in Gloria Bell.
It was Julianne’s idea to set it in LA, it made a lot of sense for me as well. Because of the car culture and how isolating LA can be. There is a certain messiness in the city and that’s very similar to Santiago. As well as other things like the weather, the mountains, the geography. There are many strange connections.
Overall it wasn’t hard as the story asks for certain types of spaces and there are spaces in LA and Santiago that are very similar. So the dynamics between the characters can work in the way with which it is written. Also unintentionally you end up looking for places that are not too dissimilar to the first version because thats what was written in the script. And as its the same film maker, you are going to get a similar filming style.
Upon reading reviews for the film, they characterize Gloria as a person who made bad decisions which I personally don’t agree. I saw her as someone bold enough to try things out, as well as someone who is searching for something.
What I always liked about Gloria was her resilience. She is always willing to get up, brush it all off and get back on the dancefloor. I like that attitude. But she is also someone willing to pay the price for that, for being alive. Sometimes that implies making mistakes or not making the best decisions, that doesn’t stop her from trying and I absolutely love that attitude. I myself prefer to regret something I did, than something I didn’t dare to do.
The film isn’t obvious, but yet as audience you are able to get a clear picture whats happening with complete characters.
The game of the film is turn a usual secondary character in any other film and turn them into a protagonist in this one. Gloria would usually be the mother, the sister, the auntie or the quiet wife. A person that would only occupy the corner of the screen for a little while. Not in this case, as the camera sticks with her throughout. She is the absolute centre of the scene even when what’s happening is concerning another character. Even if Gloria is just sitting there silently listening, the camera is soley focused on her.
Yes you see that a lot in her interactios with other people, more often than not, they seem to take over.
With her children, with her friends. She barely speaks. When they are singing, she is there like a witness. But we are witnessing her and that’s the strategy of the film. She is an absolute protagonist even though she would usually be a secondary character in the scenes she inhabits. But we get the chance as spectators to see her life from so many angles. In so many situations, intimate or public, we observe her on a very personal level. In the way that only you know what you do throughout the day. You know yourself when you are dressing up, when you’re talking to someone, when you’re driving alone, when you’re tying your shoes, when you’re on the phone. The only one that is with you, is you. So with Gloria we see her all the time, like on the level we see ourselves. I feel that it creates the opportunity to develop a strong bond with her. A strong complicity. An intimacy we are being allowed to witness.
This highlighting of secondary characters reminds me of Ronit in Disobedience or Marina in A Fantastic Woman. Is there a fascination on your part with these types of characters?
No idea. Not a specific reason. It has been really moving for me. It has mobilised me. It has been exciting the idea that a film like Gloria or Gloria Bell came to fruition. The idea of seeing something that no one else is seeing. There is a potential film or recognising movie material in places that are considered in more standard narratives as not interesting enough. Like they are considered to ‘low’ to deserve a sophisticated narrative.
Was it is easy to get the first version off the ground?
Pitching the first Gloria film was hard. You know this idea of a 58-year-old woman that likes to drink and dance. All my friends in Chile, producers and such were like ‘but who is going to want to see that?’ and I was like ‘yeah, but this is going to be a pop film’. It didn’t really sound good, but then it worked. Then I won some awards and then it was A Fantastic Woman and it worked again.
With three films out in less than two years is the future just as busy?
I think I went through a prolific phase. I mean, Im prepapring two films now but Im spending most of my time developing them. The making of the three previous films has been really intense, especially with all the promotion that comes with it. And everything that happened with A Fantastic Woman (the film won an Oscar for Best Foreign film), it became extra demanding. The only thing I can say about that is the fact that I made them back to back explains or more like informs. People ask me why I make films with such characters, as if I have some strategy or agenda and it really wasn’t like that. I was just following stories that moved me, that I was excited about and really wanted to make.
Gloria Bell is out in cinemas now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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