The Gloria director discusses his intense relationship with actress Paulina Garcia, making films with the Larrain brothers and future projects.

Chilean director Sebastian Lelio, known for festival favourites La Sagrada Familia, Christmas and El Ano Del Tigre, made waves in Berlin this year with his fourth feature, Gloria, which played in competition and won the Jury Prize and Silver Bear for Best Actress.

In a brave and memorable performance, Chilean actress Paulina Garcia stars as Gloria, a free-spirited divorcee, who embarks on a whirlwind relationship with a former naval officer she meets in a Santiago club.

The Berlin jury commended the film “for its refreshing and contagious plea that life is a celebration to which we are all invited, regardless of age or condition, and that its complexities only add to the challenge to live it in full.”

Screen caught up with the director just before the Sarajevo Film Festival, where the film is screening in the Kinsocope strand.

Why did you want to tell this story?

Initially, I was thrilled and moved by the idea of making a film about a character who wouldn’t normally be a film’s protagonist. Gloria would normally be a secondary character. So, even in scenes when she becomes a secondary character, the camera doesn’t abandon her.

In a way we are all secondary characters in society. Maybe that’s why so many people respond to Paulina’s character.

Of course, making a film about a 58 year-old woman was a challenge. By researching and talking to many older women in Santiago, I discovered that there was an unknown planet there.

How did you come to cast Paulina?

I have known her as an actress since I was a child, since she did her first and probably only soap opera: Los Titeres. I was totally in love with her after seeing her in that.

She became a very respected theatre actress and director and has had some smaller roles in films but she had never been the main character. I always wondered why. She is such a good actress with such a strong presence and a unique, beautiful face. I was waiting for the right project. When we found it, my co-writer Gonzalo Maza and I called her to ask if we could write it for her.

Paulina’s character is often exposed and vulnerable. Was portraying that a particular challenge for you and her?

Paulina is very brave as an actress. We discussed things a lot. There were at least ten scenes that prompted serious, ethical discussions between us.  

We underwent a kind of hypnosis, whereby I would hypnotise her and she would hypnotise me. The film became our whole world. We would literally fall asleep talking to each other on the phone. It was like a romance. It was strange and intense. We were obsessed. But that was key. Her performance is the film.

How was Pablo Larrain involved?

This is the second film I’ve made with Pablo’s production house, Fabula. I work closely with Pablo and even more closely with his brother, the producer Juan De Dios. In the last couple of years we’ve created a nice community of friends and collaborators. We watch each others films, read each other’s scripts and give each other feedback.

Who else is in this community?

Marialy Rivas, Sebastian Silva, Pedro Peirano… Because making films in Chile is still an odyssey.

What is next for you?

I have a lot of work to do promoting Gloria. The film is being released in 45 countries. I’m also writing a new script, which has been supported by the Berlinale’s new residency scheme. That has meant my other script Greetings of the Sun has been postponed a little bit.

It’s a little early to talk about the new one but I can say I would like to explore more about the generation that Gloria portrays and I would like to observe masculine feelings. Gloria is about feelings, which are very underrated in art. They are dangerous, of course, because you have to avoid sentimentality. I will probably make it will be with Fabula. There’s no title as yet.