Actor Francisco Reyes Opens A Fantastic Woman at Drexel Theatre
Hot off its Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film, A Fantastic Woman opened in Columbus last weekend. A love story, the film tells of Marina (Daniela Vega), a trans woman whose lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) suddenly dies.
Bexley’s Drexel screened the film Thursday night as part of a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) event.
The Drexel had another special screening the following day. Francisco Reyes dropped by for the film’s official opening night at the theatre and stuck around for a Q&A after.
Reyes sat down with Columbus Underground the afternoon of the event for a lovely visit.
The Chilean actor says he was humbled and surprised by the film’s success at the Oscars. He enjoyed getting the chance to talk with the other filmmakers nominated in the category and realized that, no matter the outcome, the honor of a nomination in this company was important enough.
And yet, the film did win.
“The moment they said, ‘the Oscar goes to,’’ Reyes recalls, “it was like a volcano going off. And standing on that stage in front of the stars—Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg—I couldn’t believe it. Such emotion. It was marvelous. Like touching the sky.”
Reyes says he was drawn to make the film primarily because of his respect for director Sebastián Lelio.
“He’s so original, I knew it would be special.” Reyes says.
In talking with the filmmaker about the project, Reyes realized the power the story held.
“It’s a love story,” he says, seeing the importance in the intimacy of that approach. “Because it is a love story and not some other kind of story about a trans woman, you really see this person as a person.”
“When I took the role, I said, ‘I’m heterosexual man and I’ve got to love this existence, this person’” he says. “To act in this one, for me, it was very important for me to be fully in love, to absolutely love and just love.”
“I didn’t have any relationship with the trans world. It’s not just a transexual character, but the actress is also a trans woman,” Reyes says. “So, I started to work with Daniela, and we began the work to trust each other and determine how to tell the story. It wouldn’t be very interesting if we did a militant or political film. It’s interesting because it’s a love story, that’s why it allows you to open your mind.”
He says the movie couldn’t have been made without its lead, Daniela Vega.
“It had to be her,” he says, pointing out that casting a biological female in the role would not have been authentic enough. “Her presence, her movements. Her body is a trans body. It’s not pretend.”
For Reyes, that authenticity is in more than just Vega’s form, but in her performance as well. Where another performer might flinch or tear up at the offenses thrown at Marina, Vega responds in a way that portrays a bone-deep connection with the material. As Vega’s character faces indignities from every direction, each insult lands without surprise. Marian’s response, behind a practiced composure, is of resigned disappointment.
“It’s something she faced every single day since, in the bank, on the street,” he says of Vega. “Every day since she was six years old.”
Reyes believes by helping audiences see past differences and experience another person’s life for a few hours, A Fantastic Woman helps to break down barriers for trans people in Chile and all over the world. But Reyes sees even broader possibilities.
“The film isn’t only about trans people, but speaks to our capacity to accept others,” he says.
“In today’s world there’s a tendency to close yourself off physically and culturally,” he says. “We (in Chile) have a lot of immigrants from South America—Columbia, Ecuador. It’s absolutely new for us. It’s strange, it’s beautiful. They bring with them their culture, their food, their music, their bodies. It’s another experience.”
“People are afraid, they close borders and reject immigrants,” he says. “This film is going against that, it’s saying you can open your mind to the unknown, to the one that you’re afraid of, to the life experiences, culture and beauty of that other. The movie is about accepting, opening up and not being closed-minded.”
“In Chile they taught us that we’re a different kind of country, the best of Latin America. But we never win anything,” Reyes laughs. “Not football, sometimes tennis. So, when we won the Oscar, the people in my country cheered, ‘Chile! Chile!’ Because the whole country won the Oscar. But they won with this film, not an action film, not another film. So, they have to embrace a movie about a theme or message that is integration and acceptance.”
Reyes says the impact of A Fantastic Woman is already being felt in Chile’s trans community.
“Because of this film, the laws are changing about the legal rights of trans people,” he says. “Oscar—boom!—legal change. It’s very important, the art, because art doesn’t have politics. It’s not necessarily from the left or right, it’s coming from the heart, making it possible for people to come to an understanding from beauty, and it has this effect.”
Thanks to Dr. Elena Foulis for translating.