Film review, by Jason Day, of A Fantastic Woman, chronicling how a transgender woman in modern-day Chile faces and surmounts the insults and ignorance of society after her formerly heterosexual, married partner suddenly dies. Starring Daniela Vega.
Marina (Daniela Vega) is a transgender woman who is blissfully, intimately in love with her partner Orlando (Francisco Reyes) in modern-day Chile. Their idyllic life together is obliterated when Orlando dies suddenly, after an innocent but passionate sexual encounter. Medically, this had more to do with his age than his personal life, but Marina is treated as a suspect in a ‘sexual assault’ case, standard practice in Argentina.
Putting a brave and heroic face on it, she deals with the vicissitudes, violence and viciousness of an ignorant and uncomprehending society.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
I came rather late in the day to the party that is this wonderful, life-affirming movie.
Released in 2017 to dazzling acclaim it was – alas – not something readily available to view in Rugby, Warwickshire.
Instead, I saw A Fantastic Woman accidentally some time later in Milton Keynes. And a fortunate accident it was, too.
The town’s art gallery ‘MK Gallery’ had been closed for refurbishment and extension for two years and I had been invited to their gala re-opening.
Up above the gallery is a new, well-appointed cinema/multiple use arts and entertainment Sky Room with 150 retractable, US High School gynamisum-style seats.
I went to their first movie screening, a preview of the van Gogh biography At Eternity’s Gate (2018) starring Oscar-nominated Willem Dafoe.
HELL YAH! I even invited friends along who were as intrigued about a new picture palace as I and also happy at having a free cinema ticket.
We had free Prosecco and popcorn and the conversation with other invited MK arts enthusiasts and opinion leaders and arts enthusiasts flowed freely.
But by 7:50pm the promised 7:30 screening had not materialised. What was up?
Turns out that state-of-the-art digital cinema on its opening night, isn’t always as reliable as one would hope. But whilst At Eternity’s Gate would remain very much in the future, MK Gallery had a plan B.
This proved to be their cinema partner Curzon Cinema’s next choice, the dazzling and dynamic A Fantastic Woman. And fantastic was exactly what it proved to be.
Daniela Vega gives a studied and stunning performance of patience, diplomacy and understanding toward the hostile, negative and ignorant attitudes of other people. Vega and Reyes also add some real passion and intimacy to their love scenes; there is nothing gratuitous here, but merely love from two life-longer partners, something ‘heteronormative’ cinema scenes could learn a lot from.
Considering the invective directed at her, Marina is perhaps too passive during the first two thirds of the movie, but it makes her later burst of assertiveness and aggression seem much sweeter and stronger.
Here, she fights for the one thing at Orlando’s family has not right to – their beloved dog. Orlando’s son Bruno (Nicolas Saavedra) notes – as he greedily starts to catalog the financial worth of his late father’s apartment and its contents – that he fell out of love with the dog when he didn’t like how it smelt. The dog is a surrogate, tug-of-love child in this domestic battle.
Bruno’s rather pathetic transphobia – vicious but also poorly thought out and needing the back-up of several burly pals – is eclipsed by the horrific reactions of the medical and policing professionals Marina deals with.
According to a 2015 report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), LGBT+ people face “high levels of violence” from society and their family*. You might – sadly – anticipate this from the police. A female officer hounds and denigrates Marina and forces her to strip naked and have her genitals photographed, categorising Orlando’s death as a possible sex crime by mere dint of Marina’s orientation, but not from doctors.
As Orlando dies, Marina is made to wait outside and a sign in Spanish ominously reads ‘dirty zone’ and she is patronised by an otherwise kindly nurse.
Later, the doctor calls the police because Marina – in shock and distressed at the complete lack of empathy from him – leaves the hospital for a walk to get some fresh air. In ear-shot of her, they talk about her in the third-person, discussing her gender status and whether to refer to her in the feminine.
Orlando’s uncomprehending ex-wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim) – whom it is implied Orlando left for his younger trans partner – offers Marina a devastating summation: “I’m looking at an illusion.”
The characters aren’t uniformly negative. Despite talking for her when she is stood next to him, Orlando’s polite and respectful brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco) offers a glimpse of sympathy and understanding from the older generation.
Marina is a singer and the use of music throughout is piquant and mood setting. A Fantastic Woman is an LGBTQ+ ‘tone poem’, one that plays a tune for the modern age.
When we first see her, she trills about today’s news being tomorrow’s chip-paper, it’s a fizzy blues number, ironically leading us toward the vicissitudes of family and society.
Her second number, when she visits her voice coach after Orlando’s death, is an operatic number about being a loyal but scorned wife, scoring a musical bullseye.
Bereft and disconsolate, Marina wafts in a dream-like state into a sweaty, sex-fuelled gay club and we get the impression she may have met Orlando here – certainly, his ghost joins her, as he does throughout the film, as a mute, guardian angel. She leads a dance of trans people and, immaculately made-up, rises phoenix-like into a glitter-ball heaven.
This is the catalyst for her re-birth, pumping energy and assertion into her system as she challenges Orlando’s family for the dog.
Her last song is moving and beautifully delivered, as she describes to a large and receptive audience how she is a special, precious flower.
And what a privilege it is to see her bloom again.
Cast & credits
Director: Sebastian Lelio. 1hr 44mins/104mins. Fabula/Komplizen Film/Muchas Gracias/Setembro Cine/Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen/ARTE. (15)
Producers: Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza.
Writers: Sebastian Lelio, Gonzalo Maza.
Camera: Benjamín Echazarreta.
Music: Nani García, Matthew Herbert.
Sets: Estefania Larrain.
Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Kuppenheim, Nicolas Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Trinidad Gonzalez.