There are a lot of people that feel that America is ahead of the rest of the world in a lot of aspects, including filmmaking. Sure, when you see certain genres of film from around the world, one realizes the power of firms like ILM and others, but from a storytelling standpoint, I do take a bit of umbrage. Being able to review films semi-professionally over the last few years, I have been able to see some interesting and thought-provoking stories from places I would have not considered otherwise, and Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” is amongst those ranks.
Daniela Vega plays Marina Vidal, a trans woman in Chile who has found the love of her life in the much older Orlando (Francisco Reyes). As they celebrate her birthday, Orlando passes away in the middle of the night, leaving Daniela in a very precarious position as she is pretty much outcast from his entire circle of family and friends as well as a society that sees her as nothing short of an outcast and an abomination. As she tries to navigate her grief process, she is attacked from almost all sides as she tries to find her new normal.
Vega, a trans actress herself, was originally supposed to be a consultant on this film, but Lelio was so engaged by her story that he cast her in the role, and it was one of the smartest things he could have done. Her experiences seem to tie to Marina’s on such a deep and personal level that the character’s raw emotions and journey come through loud and clear. This performance can only be described as enthralling, exposing a society that still has a long way to go in order to get to acceptance (and we are not exempt in that category either, people) as well as the simple human need to have closure and the permission to grieve.
Lelio also shoots his script (which he co-wrote with frequent collaborator Gonzalo Maza) without apology and with a clarity that demands respect and attention to its message from its audience. The characters are rich and multi-leveled (including the MANY antagonists), placing their intentions and motivations right there on front street to add to Marina’s world even deeper on top of her brilliant performance. There are moments that reminded me of a ‘60s style drama (down to the score) while keeping things current and relevant.
Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar amongst a number of other awards it has collected, “A Fantastic Woman” displays universal themes of acceptance, grief, loss, and closure in a way that even though it is told through what can be seen as controversial eyes, they are lenses that we all must take notice of.