A Fantastic Woman is toplined by a beautifully-controlled performance by Chilean actress and singer Daniela Vega, an acclaimed trans stage performer in only her second film. It’s a study of a formerly frequent situation that will become less common as the world becomes more equal.
Sebastián Lelio’s internationally-popular drama Gloria explored complex contemporary relationships amongst older people and his follow-up where he serves once more as co-writer and director is braver and harsher yet still modest enough to offset charges of preachiness.
Although we begin watching Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a 50-something businessman, this quickly becomes all about the plight of his partner Marina (Vega) when Orlando suddenly dies. She immediately contacts his brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco) and he’s shocked and supportive but drowned out by the rest of the family, particularly his cruel ex-wife Sonia (Aline Küppenheim) and aggressive son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra, frightening yet gormless).
Harassed by the police (who wrongly think there was violence involved in Orlando’s death), thrown out of his apartment, forbidden to attend his funeral and unforgivably separated from beloved German shepherd Diabla, Marina has little time for grief, but Vega’s quietly intense performance ensures that we know how hard she’s fighting the pain.
Although there was certainly justification here for angry soapboxing and finger-waving, Lelio’s film (co-produced by his colleague Pablo Larrain of Jackie and Neruda) is instead about how Marina responds to the injustice and prejudice, no matter how horrible. It’s impossible not to feel for her, from the moment where the seemingly reasonable Sonia callously asks, “What are you?” to the awful Bruno’s final pathetic payback.
Nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award, this could potentially send Vega to Hollywood and get her into all sorts of films in the US, but is that infamously narrow-minded town ready for her? And, seriously, do they deserve her?
Rated MA. A Fantastic Woman is in cinemas now.