LatinoBuzz: Chile's new enfant terrible Sebastian Silva

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by Sydney Levine
February 6, 2013 5:30 PM
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Actors Michael Cera, Juan Silva, Agustin Silva, director Sebastian Silva and actress Gaby Hoffmann Larry Busacca/Getty Images North America
Chile's new enfant terrible seems to have grown up overnight.  Sebastian Silva did come to prominence with The Maid and has other films under his hat, but with two films at Sundance (Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus),  and Magic Magic in Berlin this year, he is unusually visible to all. We had a wonderful intense hour of conversation about his films during Sundance and I am playing back to my readers here.

Sebastian uses his three brothers Juan Andres, Jose Miguel and Augustin as foils in his creations and they bring a real life feel to his films.  The brothers are earnest, have a natural interest in life around them.  They are not actors.  One is a psychologist, one is a sociologist and the other just graduated high school and has just moved to New York (where Sebastian lives) and wants to get involved in the film business.  Sebastian's previous breakout hit, The Maid (ISA: Shoreline), cast this younger brother, Agustín Silva, who is also in Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic.  He even has offers for representation now.

All Sebastian’ films deal with cross-cultural incompetence, in a comic-tragic way.

Michael Cera in Crystal Fairy
The films, especially Crystal Fairy seem so casual but as I spoke with Sebastian at Sundance where his two films premiered, I discovered how carefully he thinks out every detail.  The actors themselves are quite easy going about the preparation and working time; Crystal Fairy was more an improvisation based on a trip to find and take the cactus which produces mescaline.  The enchantment of the film unfolds easily, as if without effort.  Sebastian notes that the film is about experiencing compassion and the character played by Michael Cera, so self-centered and so maladroit, does finally experience compassion, but he does not grow miraculously after that.  Similarly, Crystal who provides the revelation of the trip grows into her own person but not totally or immediately.  She finally says her real name – but to a stranger; she goes off on her own in the end out of a sort of embarrassment.  Michael’s character also feels compassion for the first time but in the end he still fails to appreciate her great sadness.  Her attempts to resuscitate a dead rabbit are the most pathetic signs of her fantasy life and Jamie is correct in telling her to see beauty in things as they are.The foil to these two naïve lost gringos in Chile are the three brothers who take life as it comes and do not trouble themselves too much about the curves and bumps in their paths.

Magic Magic- Emily Browning plays Sarah, a tourist in Chile who invites her friend Alicia (Juno Temple) along with her...
Sebastian was a pictorial artist of sorts and a musician, but he spent 6 months in a small film school in Chile and afterward he filmed everything.  He began writing and discovered that storytelling is the most difficult of all the arts; he read Sy Fields to learn the structure of the narrative and wrote 3 screenplays which went into a drawer.  The 4th was Life Kills Me which just showed January 16 at MOMA and was funded in part by Global Film Initiative.  He took Crystal Fairy to Fabula and Pablo Lorrain (No) said yes.  Sebastian did have a reputation in Chile for his music and had an art show as well, so the Lorrain brothers knew he could get things done and they helped him produce.  As he directed, he realized this was his métier.  When he is with good people in good surroundings, with fun sets, he cares about the experience of making the film.  It is exhausting to deal with one story so long, so the story must have many layers with strong details, private fetishes.  He quoted Tennessee Williams who said that whenever he wrote something, he had to have a sexual desire for one of his characters.  While Sebastian does not share that he does need many layers to work with.  Therefore he can’t do others’ material.  He spends at least two years with his own material and subject matter. He finds filmmaking is therapeutic for him and in the case of The Maid, for his entire family.  In Old Cats, an Alzheimer story, it was important for him to deal with aging and deterioration.  When he went to the Golden Globes for The Maid, he was on a panel with Michael Haneke and both were working on projects on aging.

Magic Magic is his 5th movie.  Except for a cash prize he won in Poland for The Maid, no money has ever come back to him from his movies.  But he does get directors fees and for that, if no backend ever comes, he can still get along.  Never has he received government funding for his films.  He has been living in Brooklyn for 12 years.

Sebastian considers himself a sort of false mystic and making the films brings him closer (hopefully) to a sort of enlightenment.  Cultural dissonances seem to attract him as can be seen in The Maid, Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic in which the fragile Alicia played by Juno Temple so totally misconstrues the foreign world she is immersed in, and so little regard for her comfort is shown by people acting as if no foreign element has entered their world that she is perhaps totally obliterated…

You can read more about Sebastian’s views in the Sundance interview : http://www.sundance.org/festival/article/a-conversation-with-sebastian-silva/

Or watch and learn here on YouTube.

I am looking forward to seeing how these two films take on life in distribution, and to seeing what Sebastian comes up with next.

Magic Magic, produced by Silva’s Braven Films and Christine Vachon’s Killer Films along with Mike White  and David Bernad’s L.A. company Rip Torn Films,  will be in Berlin and is being sold by 6 Sales.  UTA is repping U.S. rights to both films.

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