Rising Chilean Director Sebastian Lelio’s recent masterpiece has hit cinemas this year and it is easy to see why it has won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
A Fantastic Woman tells the story of Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman whose world is unexpectedly flipped upside down having been suspected of murdering her lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes).
Not only must Marina handle the grief of such a traumatic loss, but she must then face up to both the prejudiced views of Orlando’s family regarding the couple’s relationship and the harassment from the cold-hearted Detective Cortés (Amparo Noguera). This tender romance turned tragic drama takes you on an emotional journey, whilst posing questions of love against identity and reputation.
Perhaps the most poignant element of the film is how Lelio tackles the micro-aggressions that transgender people must deal with on a daily basis. Orlando’s family is thrown into disarray when they discover who was last to be with him at the time of his death. With a combination of uncomfortable silences and incessant close-up shots of discomfited facial expressions, Lelio depicts Marina’s constant struggle to affirm her identity against the suspicions and stereotypes — sometimes coming from absolute strangers.
The first utterance many of Orlando’s relatives can respond with are a mix of flippant remarks such as “Have you had the surgery yet?”, or “I don’t know what I’m seeing,” or even “Do I say him or her?” As the catastrophic events unfurl, we see Marina’s character change from a sassy cabaret singer singing a fiery version of Héctor Lavoe’s “Tu amor es un periódico de ayer” [Your love is yesterday’s newspaper], to a woman isolated and rejected by those around her, unable to move forward.
A series of vicious altercations draw the audience into the distress that Marina experiences as a transgender woman living in Santiago, an issue that Vega herself has had to tackle for her whole life. “In the country where I was born I do not have the possibility of having my own name on my official documents,” she tells the Santiago Times. There is an escalating tension within the film that is, admittedly, at times, very difficult to watch and triggers an overdue sense of compassion for anybody who might be in her same situation.
A Fantastic Woman is a captivating drama about the search for acceptance and comfort amid the discrimination that comes from being different. Lelio addresses these issues creatively, allowing the audience to fully understand Marina’s struggle. Vega’s heart-warming performance leaves you moved by her personal experiences and by the end of the film proves to us how fantastic a woman she really is.