A Fantastic Woman – Film Review by Frank L.
Una Mujer Fantástica (original title)
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Writers: Sebastián Lelio (screenplay), Gonzalo Maza (screenplay)
Stars: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco
Lelio is Chilean and in this film he reveals an underground aspect of that society. The fantastic woman is one Marina (Daniela Vega) who works as a waitress but also moonlights as a night club singer. She has an admirer in Orlando (Francisco Reyes) who it transpires has left his wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim) for the charms of Marina. They live quietly together in a suitably mundane apartment. However, one night in bed with Marina, Orlando is overwhelmed by chest pains, she tries to help him and the two of them fall down a flight of stairs, he bruising his head. He is rushed to hospital where the shutting of the operating theatre doors symbolise the shutting out by society of Marina which will now take place. Marina is an out cast – a transsexual.
The story shows how Marina has to deal with the suspicious authorities as a result of Orlando’s bruised head. Marina has to endure the cold contempt of Orlando’s wife and his entire family. They are appalled by Marina and want nothing to do with her other than to remove any trace of her from their lives. They forbid Marina to attend Orlando’s funeral. On the official front Marina has to deal with the authorities which includes Adriana (Amparo Noguera), a do-gooder social worker, who has her own preconceived ideas about the relationship between Marina and Orlando. In short, the world of Marina is upended by the death of Orlando and she is alone. However, she will not go quietly away and she is determined to show respect to Orlando, the man she loved. Marina is prepared to fight cat-like to do so.
Daniela Vega as Marina moves from being a somewhat uncertain nightclub singer to a woman confident in her right to pay Orlando the respect he deserves from her as his last lover. It is a performance by Vega of great character and Marina’s determination, notwithstanding the serial humiliations, remains undimmed. Vega is an actor of skill and power. The story is intersected with flash backs of Orlando and Marina’s life together in particular their first meetings. It might have been wiser to have told their story in a linear fashion as muddling their common past with Marina’s solitary anger following his death to some extent dilutes the magnificence of her rage.
This is a serious film which delineates some of the prejudices and outright hostilities which a transsexual person faces. It is sensitively filmed. The Spanish director, Pedro Almodovar, has made trans issues visible in his corpus of work. Lelio, in his native Chile, continues further into that territory with Marina. It perhaps could have done with a little more humour at which Almodovar is so adept. Nevertheless, this is an intelligent film and it is enlightening to view any society from the point of view of an outsider. Marina is just that – an outsider.