Director: Sebastián Lelio
Starring: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes
There aren’t too many films that come along and make you feel every single emotion possible. But now and then one just pops along, seemingly out of nowhere, and hits you like a slap in the face by your nearest and dearest loved one, leaving you simultaneously confused and slightly in awe that such a thing could happen. That’s how Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica to use its original title) left me feeling. I was unsettled, angry, heartbroken, elated, amused, enthused, perplexed, confused at times… Just think of any possible emotion a human being might experience and you’ll probably feel it while watching Lelio’s now Oscar-winning film.
A Fantastic Woman follows the story of a transgender singer and part-time waitress, Marina (Daniela Vega), whose life is turned upside down when her older partner, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), dies suddenly of a brain aneurysm. She’s left having to face a series of questions over Orlando’s death due to the injuries he had sustained before dying at the hospital, yet also is having to deal with the scorn and discrimination from her partner’s family.
There are moments in this film which will make you lose faith in humanity. Marina A lot is going like a dirty little secret by Orlando’s family; a secret that they just want to go away and leave them alone. The family completely ignores the fact that Marina is a human being too that needs to grieve the passing of her former partner. You can tell at the beginning of the film that Marina and Orlando share something very special and that it’s true love, yet you quickly come to realise that this love was not, and could not, be understood by Orlando’s family. His son and ex-wife have particular problems with their relationship and it causes them to treat Marina like a ‘thing’ and not a person.
However, what you see in Marina, brilliantly portrayed by Daniela Vega, is all the good in humanity as she struggles against a society that is just not ready or unwilling to accept her for who she really is. Despite everything that happens to her, Marina never resorts to violence. There’s only one scene where she seemingly loses her cool, in which she ends up jumping on the roof of Orlando’s ex-wife’s car. Yet, even in that moment, she manages to keep her dignity intact. There’s a lot to be said about Vega’s performance. There are multiple scenes in which the camera is solely focused on her face, and it’s captivating. Vega could have ended up going very over the top, but she doesn’t, and I’m so glad she didn’t because that sort of Oscar-baity performance would not have suited the character.
There are moments in this film that break from reality and these give the audience a better sense of how Marina is really feeling. There’s a sort of ghost story going in the background in which Marina keeps on seeing her deceased lover. These scenes add to the film’s mysterious quality and also serve as a good metaphor for handling grief. There’s also particular dance number which is I believe the best and most surreal dance sequence I’ve ever seen on-screen. A lot is going on in this film and Lelio perfectly balances it all together to create something genuinely unique.
I can’t say that I’ve seen something quite as moving and infuriating (in a good way) as A Fantastic Woman this year. The last time I remember feeling this way while watching a film was during Thomas Vinterberg The Hunt which stars Mads Mikkelsen as a man wrongly accused of pedophilia. There’s a similar sense of injustice running through both of these movies, and they both explore current and challenging subject matter, yet A Fantastic Woman handles it in a slightly more nuanced and caring way.
I’m going to end my review with a line that you could see on this film’s poster: A Fantastic Woman is a fantastic film, directed by a fantastic director, featuring a truly fantastic woman. There you go.