A Fantastic Woman (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
This is an important film, with a breakout performance from Daniela Vega, which is groundbreaking and, dare I say, fantastic.
Oscar bucket list folks: This potentially could take home the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
The movie just "is", telling its story as if it was a film like most others. That unassuming nature makes it significant and all the more necessary in advancing representation on screen.
By integrating transgender representation almost matter-of-factly, in a mostly unassuming way, some have said the film is actually regressive and performs a disservice to Daniela Vega.
The screenplay wavers a bit, failing to amplify subplots and leaving significant adversaries to Vega's Marina, written as one-note and singular.
You enjoy living on the wrong side of history.
In Sebastián Lelio's Oscar-nominated A Fantastic Woman, a girlfriend is continually shunned, barred, and forbidden from grieving over the sudden death of her boyfriend. His surviving family does everything they can to push the woman away and insist, then demand, that she not come to the funeral and never speak to the family again.
If this seems rash, we soon learn why. A Fantastic Woman tells the story of Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), a lounge/jazz singer by night, and waitress by day, who has just moved in with Orlando (Francisco Reyes). Despite a significant age disparity, the couple is very much in love and at a celebratory birthday dinner for Marina, Orlando has just arranged for a Brazilian birthday trip. Life is good.
After a romantic evening at home, Orlando wakes up in the middle of the night ill and faint. Marina calls for a paramedic and as she gathers things to rush him to the hospital, Orlando falls down the stairs in the apartment complex, bruising and injuring his body in the process. At the hospital, Orlando dies, but the injuries on his body prompts an interrogation from a doctor and the launch of an investigation by Antonia (Amparo Noguera), an investigator from the Sexual Offenses Investigation Unit.
It is here where we first learn that Marina is listed as "Daniel" on her identification and her gender identification as female is "pending." Belittled with male pronouns, Marina's transgender identity is mocked by the institutions that just attempted to save the love of her life. Would the hospital offer the same care and protections were it Marina admitted to the emergency room?
Moments like this encompass just a few of the probing, insightful observations that Lelio makes with his new film. Powered by a stunning, debut, breakout performance from Vega, A Fantastic Woman is thoughtful storytelling, with important optics and significance in not only the annals of LGBTQ cinema, but also in advancing long overdue transgender on screen representation.
Perhaps more importantly, Vega is woven into the tapestry of a unique and intriguing drama, a script co-authored by Lelio and Gonzalo Maza that looks at the complexity of familial fracture, how easily misunderstandings can spiral out of control, and how we sacrifice and grow when touched by love.
The film is also rather unpredictable in how it injects symbolism, musical sequences, and an almost dreamlike haze on occasion, through the lensing of cinematographer Benjamin Echazarreta. The use of a clever song score brings smiles, and occasional somberness, with a luminous performance from Vega providing the beating heart the movie pulses to.
As she faces more and more repudiation from Orlando's family after his passing, she is forced to vacate their apartment days after she has made it her new home. A dog is argued over. A car is taken from her. And she is judged by everyone - an estranged sister, Orlando's son, and an ex-wife who cannot understand Orlando and Marina's relationship.
In portraying Marina, Vega's confidence on screen grows as the movie propels us along. She becomes a character and a presence, we simply cannot help but root for.
Recently chosen as the first transgender performer to present at the Academy Awards, Vega's work has received universal acclaim because through Marina's rejection, the humiliation at the hands of police, the constant struggle to validate her very existence, and suddenly isolated from the comforts she was just beginning to accept, nevertheless, she persists, maturing before our very eyes.
Lelio plays things a little too cute at times and the screenplay struggles to give agency to Orlando's family. Though they are cruel at times, and deplorable in other moments, we are left to fill in the blanks.
That's easy enough to do: Save one kind-hearted brother, Orlando's family doesn't understand how someone could be transgender. They see Marina as something broken or a person mentally ill, they refuse to try and understand how and why Orlando could fall in love with someone like that. They clearly reject, perhaps even despise, that which they cannot begin to try and accept or understand.
And though the film never explores those knee-jerk recoils beyond surface-level cliche, Marina, and Vega for that matter, deserves so much more.
However, we do have this, which still makes me smile whenever I think of it.
ne of the key moments in A Fantastic Woman occurs when we see Marina elevate, improbably high in the air, her eyes fixed on the camera and staring right through us. A confident smile emerges, telling us that Marina will not be rejected any longer; well on her way to becoming a most fantastic woman indeed.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Alejandro Goic, Antonia Zegers, Trinidad González, Néstor Cantillana.
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Written by: Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Meza
Release Date: February 2, 2018
Sony Pictures Classics