Who is Raphaëlle Perez, better known as Raphi? French by birth, it’s in Barcelona that the trans artist has found a place to live, work, love, and determine her authentic personality. The poet and actress enjoyed a close collaboration with director Adrián Silvestre in order to tell the true story behind Mi vacío y yo (My Emptiness and I), now in cinemas after triumphing in myriad national and international festivals. We talk with Silvestre (Valencia, 1981) about this sensitive portrait reflecting on finding our place in the world, how others see us, and the decision to be happy no matter what.
Let’s start with the title. Why Mi vacío y yo?
Mi vacío y yo is the title of one of the poems Raphi wrote upon arriving in Barcelona. The film talks about the emptiness felt by her character and their need to define their identity. In the end, it is a universal story that everyone can identify with.
What is Raphi looking for? Is it the story of a person in search of happiness?
Yes, you could say that, because that is something we all aspire to. All our decisions and dreams, such as finding a good job that makes us feel fulfilled, or reaching the point of feeling comfortable with our gender, are aimed at achieving happiness.
Is it a different kind of romantic comedy? Or a romantic drama, equally unique?
I find it hard to put a label on my work. Although my films can be heartrending and serious, they also have touches of humor. There are some things you can laugh at despite their seriousness.
Is the Raphi of Mi vacío y yo the real Raphi? How much of the film is fiction? Where is the line between fiction and reality? That’s another of the common questions when it comes to analyzing your new film.
It’s the Raphi I’ve known since we started this project together and that together we’ve seen through to fruition. Just as in real life, the Raphi at the start of the film is not the same as the one at the end. Now she is a more empowered person.
Unusual, different, daring – these are some of the adjectives I’ve seen used to describe your film. Do you agree with them? What would you add?
That’s for you and others to do. I speak through images. My films allow many interpretations. And I believe in a type of cinema that borders on political incorrectness and that makes you think.
At the start of the film, at the Gender Identity Unit of Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic, Raphi is diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which is a sense of mismatch between gender identity and the sex assigned at birth. The synopsis for Mi vacío y yo explains that this is the start of Raphi’s “forced gender transition”. Do you feel that society today obliges us to define what we identify ourselves as and, furthermore, to do so hastily?
Absolutely. Our society has advanced in everything to do with social rights and there are more and more categories, but at the same time there is that social pressure for you to quickly declare which group you belong to, be it heterosexual, gay, bisexual, cis, transsexual and so on. There are many options, but we shouldn’t feel we have to be in a rush to determine and tell others what ours is.
When you take on a project like Mi vacío y yo, is it difficult to find kindred spirits, producers and fellow travelers? In this case, you enjoyed the collaboration of producers such as Javier Pérez Santana, Marta Figueras and Alba Sotorra. And from the distributor, Filmin.
Yes, it is hard, but the names you mention are people who, along with others, got what I was saying and who haven’t queried anything at all at an artistic level. It’s very hard to get projects off the ground in Spain. It was with Javier’s support, through Testamento Films, that I was able to push forward with Sediments, my previous film. No matter how well one feature film does for you, it’s no guarantee you’ll find backing for the next one. Fortunately, for my next project I have the participation of Producciones del Barrio, which is Jordi Évole’s production company, and Nanouk Films. But I can’t say anything else just yet!
What was it like collaborating with director Carlos Marqués-Marcet (The Days to Come, Anchor and Hope) on the script, and what did it involve?
Together with Raphi, we wrote the first drafts of the script for Mi vacío y yo. Based on that, the producers suggested that we incorporate an external perspective. And Carlos was involved in the final stages of the script.
As a filmmaker, what is your goal, your mission, your passion?
To give my life meaning. To never stop learning and never stop being creative while staying true to my values.
Now you are at last premiering in cinemas but how many festivals did Mi vacío y yo screen at beforehand?
Tons! It’s been amazing! About 30-40, and it’s been confirmed for another 40. What’s more, it’s been at festivals across a broad range geographically and also in terms of profiles, such as documentaries, fiction and LGTBI themes. We’ve received 20 awards, for different areas, including direction and acting. At first, we were worried about how the public would react. For example, we have come across people who had no idea what it means to be trans.
At the end of the film there’s a party, and that’s as much as we’ll say. How would you explain this ending?
It’s a hopeful one. Raphi is a luminous person with great capacity to push forward. And now it’s about nothing getting in his way. Trans people have many problems socially and also legally. Raphi, unlike others, has had the support of her family and been able to study, and will be able to go as far as she wants to. In Mi vacío y yo we didn’t want to succumb to victimhood, because in reality, Raphi’s journey has only just begun.