Reviewed by Linda Marric
A few films have managed to garner the kind of good will directed at Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s brilliantly well observed feature A Fantastic Woman. Nominated for a foreign language Oscar at this weekend’s Academy Awards, the film offers a wonderfully complex, engaging and thoroughly affecting account of a young trans woman’s battle against preconceived ideas about gender and sexuality in a traditional latin society. Staring transgender actress Daniela Vega in the principle role, A Fantastic Woman is as innovative in its story telling as it is tender in its dealings with issues relating to grief and loss.
Daniela Vega is Marina, a carefree young transgender woman whose life descends into a living nightmare after the sudden death of her much older lover. A waitress by day and a traditional singer by night, Marina suddenly finds herself under huge scrutiny one night when her lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) is taken ill after a night out celebrating her Birthday. Despite the doctors’ best efforts to save him, Orlando later dies in hospital, leaving Marina to face questions from the authorities who believe that she could be responsible for his death. Misgendered and humiliation, first by the police and later by Orlando’s ex wife and adult son, Marina struggles to stand up for herself against those who seek to humiliate her further by stopping her from saying goodbye to the man she loved.
Vega is a natural, her ability to convey a sense of resilience and quiet resolve amidst a truly harrowing ordeal is truly astounding. As Marina is pushed from all sides, her ability to stay true to herself is tested time and times again, but remains nevertheless unahakable.
At the heart of the story is a beautifully complex and well crafted idea about societal gaze towards trans bodies. Lelio’s clever use of poetic and magic realism in order to convey a sense of struggle against something far greater than one woman’s cautionary tale, goes a long way to show just how brilliant of a filmmaker he is.
Above all, A Fantastic Woman is beautifully touching and genuinely heartening. The film not only manages to showcase the talent of one young trans actress, but also allows us as viewers to challenge our own preconceived ideas about what it means to be transgender and the hurt that could come from having no standing or rights in a deeply traditional society.
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Writers: Sebastián Lelio (screenplay), Gonzalo Maza (screenplay)
Stars: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco
A Fantastic Woman is in cinemas from Friday March the 2nd.