Academy Award-winning Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (“A Fantastic Woman”, the foreign-language Oscar winner of 2017) has one of the most acclaimed films of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival: “The Wonder,” which continues to showcase his talent for searing narratives about young women navigating crises of faith and survivalist techniques in worlds that might not be quite ready for them.
Lelio and co-screenwriter Emma Donoghue stopped by TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio at TIFF to chat with senior film reporter Brian Welk about the layered psychodrama, which follows Lib (Florence Pugh), a 19th-century Irish nurse called upon to investigate the fasting ritual of a child who has not eaten in months. It kickstarts an uneasy meld of religious fervor and social politics that threaten Lib’s young charge. (Donoghue also wrote the novel by the same name on which the film is based and shared writing duties with Lelio and British playwright Alice Birch.)
“It was a book urgently about today…I found the story very unique, rarely seen on screen,” said Lelio, who indicated that growing up in a religious-fueled dictatorship in Chile helped shape his perspective. “About the collision between science and magical thinking, science and faith, reason and superstition, irrationality… You could use that sentence to summarize what were going through politically, globally.”
Donoghue, whose book “Room” became an indie film hit and scored an Oscar for lead Brie Larson, thought the current climate upped the book’s urgency. “COVID actually made it even more relevant… There were people having fundamental clashes with their loved ones about an election or a vaccine,” she said. “I knew that Sebastian would bring a contemporary, thoughtful energy to it and not make a traditional period piece. Find a genius and cling on to him!”
Both artists knew that the role of Lib required a focused performer to anchor such a delicate drama (which Netflix will stream beginning Nov. 16). Donoghue had not originally envisioned someone as young as the twenty-six-year-old Pugh. “I had imagined the character as older, but even though she’s so young, she has the quality of strength and earthiness. There’s nothing “girly” about her,” she said.
Lelio heartily agreed on the “Don’t Worry Darling” actress’s innate gifts (she nabbed an Oscar nomination for 2019’s “Little Women” at age 24). “You see her onscreen in “The Wonder” and you see an actress giving a battle in front of your eyes and winning in a way that’s natural and effortless,” the filmmaker said. “She has that miraculous lightness to the approach, as if there wasn’t any work behind it. As you can tell, I love her.”
For the full conversation about “The Wonder,” click on the video above.
Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.