Tripping on Sebastian Silva

With only six feature films under his belt, the thirty-something filmmaker Sebastian Silva, is enjoying a retrospective at MIFF and discussed his 2013 feature ‘Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus’.

“It’s a movie based on a true story… I have very vivid memories of my journey with Crystal in the desert… I met the real Crystal Fairy,” Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus director Sebastian Silva revealed regarding the origins of his curiously-titled desert adventure, which marked the Chilean director’s English language debut. FilmInk attended a special screening of the film at the Melbourne International Film Festival, where only in his mid-thirties, the now New York based filmmaker is enjoying a career retrospective.

Set in Chile, Jamie (Michael Cera) and three friends travel out into the country to find a piece of the legendary San Pedro cactus, take it to a faraway beach, cook it and get high. Along the way they meet the very forward and in all ways care-free Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman) who joins in on the cactus hunt. “I met her at the Wailers concert, she took off the next day and we spent a week in the national park… after that I never saw her again,” said Silva during the post-screening Q&A, explaining the very real-life inspiration for the film and the Crystal Fair herself.

“Her (Crystal Fairy’s) confession is even part of the story, it was a very risky thing to do so I decided to reach out to her but we couldn’t find her.”

“We tried to do a shout out to Crystal Fairy, but nothing… and one day, I got an email from Gaby Hoffman, she had run into her… She saw the movie, she met Gaby and suddenly I had her number!”

“She was still the same Crystal Fairy… she was told by a friend there was a movie with her fairy name set in Chile with a cactus; she thought it was impossible, even halfway through the movie she didn’t believe it was her!”

An unusual and complicated role, Hoffman pulls off Crystal Fairy with a warm, relaxed yet extroverted sense of humour, making her immediately the most endearing character in the film and instantly the most watchable. Cera manages to carry much of the film, playing against type as an at times curmudgeonly, frustrating yet altogether empathetic human being. His character’s subtle transformation throughout the film, along with that of its female protagonist, are a joy to watch.

“It was the birth of compassion for me and my friend. We were young, I had never felt compassion like that and we were crying for her,” said Silva, adding, “The compassion of Jamie makes it the most spiritual for me.”

A familiar yet welcome take on the classic coming-of-age story, living in the moment archetypes explored in films like Garden State and any number of ‘80s teen-comedies, Crystal Fairy is a fine addition to the genre for its superb casting and fascinating setting, so far from where this type of film traditionally takes place.

“The whole shooting and gestation of this film was so easy until the very end; it was the most fun I ever had on a film,” explains Silva when an audience member asks just how they cooked the cactus on set.

“Michael [Cera] was terrified because he’s terrified of everything,” Silva told a laughing audience. “When we’re cooking the cactus we were actually cooking the cactus.”

An authentic and frequently enjoyable comedy-drama, not only for seeing Cera go far beyond his trademark hyper-fretting self,  Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus is a fun, new take on an old genre.

For more on Sebastian Silva’s retrospective at the Melbourne International Film Festival, head to the website.

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