UPDATED with speech video: Fresh off of his Independent Spirit Award for Best International Film last night, Sebastian Lelio scooped the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for A Fantastic Woman tonight. This is a first Academy Award win for Chile and was the country’s second ever nomination. In a nice dovetail, the only other nomination belongs to A Fantastic Woman producer Pablo Larrain and his 2012 No.
A Fantastic Woman stars Daniela Vega as Marina, a young transgender waitress and singer who is forced to confront suspicion and contempt after the death of her older lover. In another nice dovetail, Vega tonight became the first openly transgender presenter ever at the Oscars.
Lelio ascended the Dolby stage with Vega whom he called “the inspiration for this movie.” Joining them were Larrain and his brother Juan de Dios Larrain who are producers with Lelio and Gonzalo Maza (who co-wrote the script). Lelio also noted that the film “was made by a lot of friends and artists and I share this with all of you.” Sony Pictures Classics has domestic.
The timely title began its career at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017 where it won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. On Oscar nominations day in January, Lelio told me he and Vega were “remembering how two years ago we were shooting wondering if everything was going to even work. It seems like a long beautiful journey.”
While the multi-layered/multi-genre A Fantastic Woman is “not a cause film,” Lelio has previously told me at its center “is a real beating heart, Daniela’s heart. It is a portrait of a real transgender woman, so it’s undeniable that dimension of the film is crucial… I’m happy to see it well received within the community, but especially how generously it has been received by people have no connection to the community, who have just been exposed to a love story that has a transgender woman. The complexity is beautiful.”
Lelio is a hot property these days, he’s in post on the English-language remake of his own 2013 drama Gloria starring Julianne Moore. His next movie to release is the English-language Disobedience.
The Foreign Language Oscar race typically comes with its share of surprises, beginning with the unveiling of the shortlist that almost invariably omits a favorite title. This year was no different with France’s BPM being left out, while the nominations failed to include Golden Globe winner In The Fade. But this year’s ultimate crop of nominees was eminently deserving and each told a story that, despite years in the making, is somehow entirely relevant to today.
The other Foreign Language nominees tonight included three first timers — Ziad Doueiri with The Insult from Lebanon, Ruben Ostlund with The Square from Sweden and Ildiko Enyedi and her On Body And Soul from Hungary. Russia’s Andrey Zvyagintsev was up with Loveless and was the only previous nominee after scoring a mention with 2014’s Leviathan.