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Brazilian film star opens up about why it’s a “scary” time in the country for the LGBTQ community

Photo Credit: Kino Lorber

After premiering at the Venice Film Festival last year and becoming Brazil’s official pick for the Best International Feature Film Oscar, the celebrated drama Private Desert finally hits U.S. theaters this weekend.

In advance of Aly Muritiba’s film’s stateside release, nonbinary actor Pedro Fasanaro sat down for a fascinating interview with GayCitiesNews about their debut film role and the importance of LGBTQ representation in Brazil at a time when it’s more dangerous to be queer there than ever.

Private Desert carefully—and crucially—shifts itself between two perspectives. First, there’s Daniel (Antonio Saboia), a man at the end of his rope who is investing a lot of time and energy in his strictly online relationship with a woman named Sara. But when Sara “ghosts” him out of the blue, Daniel decides to leave everything behind and drive hundreds of miles across Brazil to find her.

The film’s trailer gives this away, so it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that, at this point, we meet “Sara” and learn that she lives her days as a man Robson—played wonderfully by Fasanaro. Though the film resists labels, we learn that Sara is a facet of Robson’s gender experimentation, and Daniel’s arrival threatens to upset the delicate balance of her life.

Related: What I learned (and didn’t learn) from my dating misadventures in Brazil

In the interview, Fasanaro opened up about the unique process of preparing for the role, discussing how they worked with Saboia to create a sense of history for a relationship that had previously only existed through the phone:

“We did that in rehearsals before filming,” they share. “We worked on their memories. We spoke on the phone, while blindfolded, but in the same room. We talked for hours to create memories that we’d feel when we started to film. The story starts when we meet, so we worked on connecting and building those memories.”

Photo Credit: Kino Lorber

To stay true to the emotional core of these characters, both actors remained apart, meeting for the first time while filming a momentous dance sequence—which happens to be the first time Sara and Daniel meet in the film.

“The dancing scene was our first meeting and kiss,” Fasanaro reveals. “We had not touched each other before that. We were building the relationship through the phone, and we didn’t interact off set. We saved it for the scene, so the tension and passion were real. I didn’t know him. I was curious about him, and he was curious about me. I was meeting a guy I knew nothing about both as an actor and as a character.”

Through Sara, this thoughtful and at times erotic love story becomes a fascinating meditation on identity and sexuality—themes given a deeper resonance in the context of Brazil’s thorny relations with the LGBTQ community. Fasanaro shares some insight into the current situation—with striking similarities to what we’re experiencing stateside.

“We are going through a terrible moment. We have the worst president. The crimes against transgender and LGBT people are increasing. It is scary to live here, and our president thinks people should have guns and that LGBT people are ‘wrong.’ People are harmed just walking down the street. Young people need to be able to recognize a trans person as a human being. But we can’t; it’s not allowed to be talked about in schools, so a queer child will suffer a lot—like I did in my school. But we do have a strong and loving queer community that tries to give us some support, and LGBT people are trying to get into politics. But it is dangerous; people can get murdered.”

Related: A striking look at the first year of the AIDS epidemic in Brazil

But the conversation ends on a more hopeful note, one in which Fasanaro shares why it’s important that films like Private Desert exist:

“Whenever we talk about LGBTQ people it’s about acceptance—and we should talk about it—but we have to talk about different things. I am LGBTQ, and we need to talk about things that are not just about defining myself as LGBTQ. We talk about this film as a love story, but for me, it is more about self-love and how self-love stops us from crossing the limits of the other. If I am able to love myself, I can deal with the sexuality and gender of someone else. Daniel and Sara help each other understand a little more about themselves. He shows her how special she is, and how much love she can have and give to the world.”

Private Desert begins playing in select New York City theaters today, with plans to expand to Los Angeles on September 9 and other cities to follow. You can find more information on the Kino Lorber website here, and watch the trailer below.