Marianne Farley talks love stories and her Oscar-nominated Marguerite


Marianne Farley, director of the Oscar-nominated short film, Marguerite, talks about the male gaze, LGBTQ romances, and the short film category.

The Oscars this year have received their fair share of criticism, particularly regarding the lack of women nominees. Canadian director Marianne Farley boasts the distinction of being the only woman nominated in this year’s short film categories for her tender LGBTQ romantic short, Marguerite.

Marguerite is the story of an elderly woman, played by Beatrice Picard, who spends the majority of her day with her caregiver, Rachel (Sandrine Bisson). When Beatrice discovers Rachel is a lesbian, it forces the older woman to reexamine her life and the same-sex relationship she denied herself. The short is a beautiful examination of two women exploring the changing landscape of relationships across generations. Farley sat down to talk to Culturess about being the lone woman in this year’s short line-up, LGBTQ romances, and more.

You’re officially the only woman nominated this year in the short film category!

I know! [It’s] insane, but I’m so proud to be. I’m proud and I wish there were three women out of five, but that will be next year maybe.

That’s how it’s been throughout history, hasn’t it?

It takes a while for these things to evolve. Social change doesn’t happen overnight and this is bound to take a few years, but at least we’re talking about it now and that’s an amazing thing.

What was the impetus to tell this story?

[There were] a lot of reasons I wanted to tell this story, women’s rights in general, LGBTQ rights. We have come a long way. Society has evolved in the right direction, in a way, but it also feels like we have to be careful and not take these things for granted because you never know. We could all go back to the 1950s, who knows? I wanted to make a moving piece about LGBTQ rights because my grandmother grew up in a generation where she had to get married, she had to have kids. Society told women to be that, to be housewives and mothers. I was thinking about that and thinking about what it would have been like to be a woman in the 1950s had she fallen in love with another woman. How you manage that and what your options are. We don’t really have options.

Human connection, in my mind, can save the world.

What was it like writing this story about generational changes in an era where we are talking about how relationships have changed?

This story is about LGBTQ rights and it’s also about women in general. It’s also about compassion and love and empathy. I find that’s what is really important is human connection. In all my projects human connection is always the starting point to any story because we go through life and we grow up, meet people. You always have these people you meet at one time in your life when you’re open and vulnerable. You meet them and they change your life completely. They say one word, one line at the right moment. Human connection, in my mind, can save the world. That’s the kind of story I yearn to see on-screen as an audience member, and as a filmmaker that’s what I want to bring to the screen. Homosexuality was illegal in Canada until 1969 which is crazy when you think about it and it’s like that in many countries.

You bring up such a good point because I know so many young adults who are still shocked that homosexuality wasn’t allowed going into the ’80s and ’90s in certain countries, but they assume we’re all progressive.

We weren’t but we still aren’t in a sense, in certain areas. We try to be. We want to be, but we aren’t always that progressive.

What was the process of finding Sandrine and Beatrice, your leading ladies?

I wrote the part of Rachel, the nurse, for a friend of mine, Sandrine. I really wanted to write something for her that was closer to what she is in real life which is someone very sensitive, generous, and kind. She usually gets cast to play these outgoing, crazy characters, very funny; she’s hilarious. But I also wanted to see her play something that was closer to who she actually was. Beatrice is a theater actress, a comedic actress, and I wanted to cast somebody against the stereotypes they’re used to playing and see how far I could take them. They’re both brilliant actresses and they’re both extremely generous. They were both moved by this story, so it was really exciting to get to work with them.

Was this a collaborative process working with them?

Because my background is as an actress I was very precise when it comes to acting, when it comes to everything. It was important to me that we figure out each moment, each beat, together. It was very collaborative throughout the whole thing. My number one goal was to create this bubble of intimacy so we could spend time working on the character arcs and making sure the pay-off worked because to get to that pay-off you have to feel like the relationship is growing, slowly but surely. The beats are so important.

What were the challenges with filming this? It’s just two actresses in one location but I’m assuming more went into it.

There were many challenges. First of all, because the story evolves within a year there’s one shot where [Beatrice] looks out the window and it’s snowing. That morning there was not one millimeter of snow on the ground. I was like, “I need for it to snow” and it literally started snowing half an hour after that. That was pretty crazy and magical. I have two big scenes in the bathroom [and] there was no bathtub in the house we rented. It’s one location on-screen but it’s actually two-locations [in reality], so we had two different houses for the bathroom. Two-thirds of the shoot was in the main house and the bathroom scenes were in a different house altogether so we had to cheat that. But I had a great artistic director so it was not too hard to do.

The film is about this character who gets to the end of her life and realizes that she didn’t live the life she should have lived.

There have been a lot of LGBTQ romances in the last several years. Was there a conscious desire to avoid certain movies?

I was writing it the same time they were shooting Carol. The reality is, and I researched this, there aren’t that many stories about lesbians. There are a lot more films about men. A lot of films and TV shows where it’s women on-screen, they have a  tendency to fetishize homosexuality or fetishize the characters. It becomes super sexual and I knew Marguerite was different. I knew that was not the approach I was choosing to do. Marguerite, that’s the drama of her life, but it could have been about something else. The film is about this character who gets to the end of her life and realizes that she didn’t live the life she should have lived. She could have wanted to become a ballet dancer. It could have been a million different things.

Well, with that, I want to ask about the ending. How did that come about? Because I could easily see a man taking it in a totally different direction.

I have to be honest because I had a few different drafts — this was maybe my tenth draft or so –the ending was completely different. It wouldn’t have been a male gaze thing, at all, but on paper it could have appeared that way. The first idea I had was that Rachel was going to make love to her girlfriend in front of Marguerite as a gift to her. But I knew that I was going to shoot it; it was not going to be a male gaze thing. It was not going to be about showing anything, I would have stayed on Marguerite. It was a way for Marguerite to project herself.

I didn’t get financing with that ending [and] some people thought it was kinda cruel. I knew it wasn’t because it’s your perspective that comes off on-screen and my perspective of this ending was beautiful, it wasn’t cruel in any way. I changed it [and] went back to the essence of what I was trying to say which was Rachel allows Marguerite to free herself and make peace with the past she couldn’t have. So that’s why I ended up bringing to the screen the kiss and a moment of tenderness and sexuality.

What was it like upon hearing the short was Oscar nominated?

That was a crazy day. I was with Jeremy Comte, who is the other Canadian director nominated [for Fauve]. It was so unbelievable that day and doing all the press stuff. It was very overwhelming. It took awhile before I realized this was happening. You spend the whole day pinching yourself going “Is this really happening? Are we actually nominated for an Oscar?” I still don’t completely believe it yet, so hopefully it’ll sink in soon.

How do you respond to the idea out on social media that we can cut the short film categories from the Oscar ceremony and in fact the ceremony almost did cut them for time?

We were very disappointed and are [now] very happy it’s back on. I feel that people who don’t understand why short films should be at the Oscars forget where they come from. The short film is where you start off and short films are really hard to do. They’re not a quarter of a film, they are films. They’re stories. You work just as hard to prepare a short film as you do a feature. If we don’t support short films where is the next generation of directors going to come from? They come from short films. Whoever said that, I think it’s really obnoxious. If you don’t respect short films then I don’t understand what you’re doing in this industry. It’s part of the industry and super important.

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You can watch the 91st Academy Awards this Sunday, February 24 on ABC at 5 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. CT.