Year:  2017

Director:  Sebastián Lelio

Rated:  M

Release:  February 22, 2018

Running time: 104 minutes

Worth: $19.00
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Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra

...a truly remarkable and unfiltered glimpse into a world of experiences that many of us know nothing about.

The transgender experience is one that hasn’t often been told in cinema, much less told honestly. While some of the more sensitive and insightful representations such as Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry or Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl communicate the pain and struggle of transgender people, the fact that these roles have not been played by transgender actors means that their representations could never be completely telling. (The recent film Tangerine is a wonderful exception).

Directed by Sebastián Lelio (the masterful Gloria) and co-written by Lelio and Gonzalo Maza, A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica) is a Chilean drama starring Chilean transgender actress and lyrical singer, Daniela Vega. So far, the film has collected a staggering 20 nominations for several prestigious accolades (of which it has won 12), including a pending result for Best Foreign Language Film at the coming 2018 Academy Awards.

A Fantastic Woman follows transgender woman Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega). Marina and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) are in love and planning for the future. Marina is a young waitress and aspiring singer, while Orlando is 20 years her senior, and owns a successful printing company.

After celebrating Marina’s birthday one evening, Orlando falls seriously ill. Marina rushes him to the emergency room, but he passes away soon after arriving at the hospital, having suffered a fatal aneurysm. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion. The doctors and Orlando’s family don’t trust her, particularly his judgmental ex-wife Sonia (Aline Küppenheim) and homophobic son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra). The family even has a detective investigate Marina in humiliating ways to see if she was involved or even responsible in his death.

Orlando’s ex-wife forbids her from attending the funeral. And to make matters worse, Orlando’s son threatens to throw Marina out of the flat she shared with Orlando and their dog. Marina’s trans identity is treated by Orlando’s family as an aberration, a perversion, and an insult to their family. Throughout the film, Marina struggles to defend her love for Orlando, the right to mourn her partner and more importantly for the right to be herself – a fantastic woman – in a world that keeps rejecting her.

Sebastián Lelio’s direction is a magic combination of a gritty, real-life drama interspersed with moments of hyper-realism. The blend of the two is a clever comment on the duality of Marina’s experiences – her real-life encounters and struggles, and her internal flare and shining personality. It would have been all too easy for Lelio to over-do it in mixing the two, but rather, he is measured and restrained with keeping the film grounded, while peppering it with just the right amount of fantastical spice.

Likewise, Lelio and Maza’s screenplay is artfully pieced together, giving the actors just barely enough to work with, forcing them to communicate in ways other than words. While each of the actors rise to this challenge, it’s Daniela Vega’s powerhouse performance as Marina that haunts you long after you’ve left the cinema.

Vega’s Marina is as formidable as she is defenceless, and her tenacious actions in the face of alienation is both heart-breaking and uplifting. What’s really special is that Vega has you on Marina’s team; you cheer for her, you cry for her, you’re angry for her, you want her to succeed.

Ultimately though, it’s not just that her performance is sympathetic or extraordinary, it’s that Vega, being a transgender woman herself, brings a perspective too honest to ignore. Here, the character of Marina becomes a friend – someone you know or could know in your own life who shares parts of Marina’s difficult journey. And let’s face it, anyone who can elicit that level of insight and empathy from their audience has a real and valuable talent.

As a whole, the film is a truly remarkable and unfiltered glimpse into a world of experiences that many of us know nothing about. It intelligently and with lots of heart, holds a mirror up to the ugliness of prejudice and the beauty of self-identity.

A Fantastic Woman, indeed.


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