Hot off his Oscar win for A Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio sat down with The Hollywood Reporter and talked about the influence of the male gaze in lesbian cinema, specifically in new film Disobedience.
The Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams-led film follows two queer women, Ronit and Esti, enduring homophobia in an orthodox religious community. Disobedience marks Lelio’s second queer film, after A Fantastic Woman, which centers around a transgender woman and took home the Oscar for best foreign language film this March. The Chilean director has drawn criticism from the LGBTQ community for the film in question, thanks to the continual frustrating hiring of straight male directors for lesbian films. But Lelio is seemingly aware of the tropes that male-directed lesbian films fall victim to, and made avid efforts to avoid such.
“I felt very attracted to this particular love triangle,” the Oscar-winner said on what drew him to the story. “I felt connected to [Ronit and Esti], I liked them. They are confused human beings trying to do their best and facing big dilemmas, and all that is happening in front of the backdrop of fixed conceptions of the world and ideas, and I supposed that interaction was going to generate the friction that I was interested to explore.”
When asked about how he avoided the male gaze in Ronit and Esti’s sex scene, Lelio said, “I was thinking about them, the characters. I was thinking of Ronit and Esti, and I was placing the camera for them as opposed to for me.”
The scene in question is lengthy and the two women remain partly clothed, which was intentional, according to the director. “When you’re filming, not everything is rational. But I really knew that this scene was part of the film that needed to be long, and that I really needed to get under their skin and get to feel what they were feeling,”he said. “It was a challenge to make it erotic without using nudity.”
“That scene focuses a lot on their faces, and the spectator is invited to complete the scene, to fill the blanks, and to imagine what’s going on outside the frame,”he continued, “and I think that creates a very active participation of the spectator in the scene. I really wanted to find very specific actions for them to do that could express how their particular love manifested.”
Both Weisz and McAdams have sang their praises for the sex scene and Lelio’s handling of such. Weisz gushed, “We were actors, given a really good, non-objectifying, journey through desire and sexuality,” while McAdams said, “Often, you’re trying to decide if it’s gratuitous or not. But this scene felt so integral to the plot and moving the story forward.”
The sex scene drew attention from critics after the film premiered in Toronto, thanks to the moment where Weisz spits in McAdams’ mouthwhich was Lelio’s idea. The director navigated the scene with respect and delicacythat’s for surebut it was a bitimaginative.