Marianne Farley’s LGBTQ film ‘Marguerite’ seems poised to win an Academy Award

By : Jeremy Williams
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Marianne Farley is so excited that her voice is shaking on the other end of the phone. Then again, that might just be a result of her standing outside in the frigid Canadian winter. The Quebecois actress wrote and directed her first film, a live-action short called “Marguerite,” and just received the news that her film was nominated for an Oscar, and was off to do a day of interviews.

“I still don’t totally, completely believe it yet,” Farley says. “I screamed, of course. You say to yourself when you’re watching that you won’t scream out but in that moment I screamed. I was just so excited. It feels very overwhelming to me right now.”

The Oscar nomination for “Marguerite” comes as no surprise to critics and audiences who have seen the film. “Marguerite” cleaned up at film festivals across the globe in 2018, including locally at the 29th Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (TIGLFF) where it won the Jury Award in the Short Film category.

“Marguerite” stars Beatrice Picard as the titular character. She is a woman late in her years and requires assistance from Rachel, an at-home nurse played by Sandrine Bisson. When Marguerite discovers that Rachel is a lesbian it unearths memories for her that forces her to confront her past and attempt to make peace with it.

“Marguerite” stands out among all this year’s Oscar-nominated films not only on its own merit. In an award season dominated by male-directed films, Farley is one of only a few female directors nominated this year, all in the short film categories.

Watermark first had the chance to speak one-on-one with Farley by phone ahead of the news that she became an Oscar-nominated filmmaker.

What do you think it is about “Marguerite” that is resonating with audiences?

The LGBTQ aspect to the film is definitely present and very important, but it’s also a film about regret and about making peace with the life that you were never able to live. I think a lot of us think about those things as we get older. It’s also a film about human connection. It’s about friendship and learning from another human being.

Where did the story of “Marguerite” come from?

My grandmother. Her reality was so different from mine. She was born in the 1920s and she was married to her husband and had kids because she had to. Religion at that time was very important. I always thought about what if my grandmother was gay? For me it was never an issue. I was raised in a family where we’re accepted just the way we are. If I fell in love with a woman, my mom would be fine with that; my dad would be fine with that. But for my grandmother to be gay at that time, for her it would have been a huge issue.

I think for women, it was even worse back then. In Montreal at the time they had underground gay bars in the 40s and 50s, but they were for men. The women stayed home, they married and had children. For me, it makes no sense that we would tell another human, that anyone has the right to tell another human being, who he or she is allowed to love.

LGBTQ love stories in film are rarely told with the kind of honesty and beauty that you show these characters. What has been your feedback from LGBTQ audience members?

I remember the film won at a festival in India last summer. It was an LGBTQ film festival and I wasn’t able to attend, but I got a note from an Indian author who was in attendance that read, “I wish you had been there because the room was filled with mostly men, and everyone was crying.” I just started crying. That’s when I realized they are seeing themselves in this film. I see myself in this film, even though this is not my story. It’s a human story and it’s about human connection, it’s about making a difference in someone else’s life just by being present. I just really believe in the power of love. And love doesn’t necessarily mean sex; love is just an open heart.

I hadn’t realized at the time when the film won, but homosexuality was still against the law when they screened the movie. It was only decriminalized a couple of months ago. Although things have come a long way, I feel like we still live in a dangerous time, where we can easily slip back. So, for me, making a film about tolerance and having an open heart was important. You never know when you are making a film how people are going to respond to it. I have friends who had a hard time with their own sexuality, and when they saw the film they were moved by it. That’s the best feedback I can get.

You’ve been acting in movies and on television for more than 20 years now, but “Marguerite” is only your second short film which you directed and the first film that you wrote. What made you decide to enter the world of writer-director now?

I had been thinking about it for a long time. I produced a couple of short films, and I just co-produced a feature film, so it’s been on my mind for a while. I think it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it was something I could do. I have been on sets for over 20 years and I’m just so fascinated with storytelling. It’s what I’m passionate about and that’s what draws me to this industry. It’s not the red carpets and all that stuff, it’s about touching people and about telling beautiful stories.

Did you find being an actor made it easier to pull the performances out of your actors?

I think it helped definitely, because I know what it’s like to be in front of the camera. It wasn’t an easy part for Beatrice. She’s someone who does a lot of comedic work, she doesn’t do a lot of drama. She was very open with me, so I also really wanted to protect her, both of my actors. I wanted to create a bubble around them. That was really important to me. We used to take the time to work with actors and now for some reason we’re going faster. Technology lets us do things 10 times faster so I feel like we’re rushed on set these days. I really wanted to take that extra time with them. Just explore things and let the characters come out naturally and organically. Beatrice has over 50 years of experience, that’s insane, and she was excited to play this part. She understood the nuances. I feel really blessed to have gotten the chance to work with them. It was amazing.

It has been more than a year since the Me Too and Time’s Up movements made their way into the news, making the topics of sexual harassment and sexual assault a more open conversation in Hollywood. What, if any, notable changes have you seen in the film industry?

I haven’t seen any actual change. I do feel like we’re talking about it, which is already huge. We’re having conversations about how we treat women, and men also. I know that with Harvey Weinstein the conversation has been mainly men toward women, but there are men who are being harassed as well. Here in Quebec, there’s a man who is accused with doing the same thing to men. I think there’s that professional line that is still not completely defined yet.

I hear a lot of men saying they are having a hard time with it because they feel trapped. Like they can’t just be men anymore, which is so weird to me. Because I feel like you should be able to be intuitive enough to feel if the woman or the man is responsive or not. It’s not just playing hard to get. I think it’s more about power too. Unfortunately, women still have less power in society. But unions are trying to force producers to make sure they have a program to prevent that from happening on set. So things are moving. They’re moving slowly, but they’re moving.

“Marguerite” has been shortlisted by a lot of critics for an Academy Award nomination for Best Live-Action Short. How are you feeling about it heading into the nominations?

It’s amazing, just being a part of the shortlist itself is incredible. I try not to think about it too much because although some people are saying “Marguerite” is a front runner, it could easily not get nominated, you never know. Hopefully that’ll happen, but if it doesn’t, I’ll just say “thank you universe.” I mean seriously, it’s insane. Just to be a part of that list is incredible.

Although, I would be so happy if it does. My ego would be happy because it would be my film [laughs]. But also, it’s the only one that talks about LGBTQ issues. It’s the only one that talks about elderly issues. It’s the only one that’s directed by a woman. So for me, that would be incredible because a nomination would help to get people talking about those important issues.

“Marguerite”— along with the other four Oscar nominated live-action short films—will play back-to-back at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, Fla., on Feb. 15. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for students, seniors and military. Showtimes and ticket prices are subject to change. You can get up-to-date information at Enzian.org.

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