AFI Fest 2017: A Fantastic Woman FILM REVIEW
A FANTASTIC WOMAN
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Screenplay: Sebastián Lelio & Gonzalo Maza
Starring: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Néstor Cantillana, Trinidad González
Rated R for language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault.
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
**** out of *****
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics
After her lover Orlando dies , Marina (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman, is forced to confront the ridicule, hate and resentment his family holds towards her.
Coming to terms with the unexpected and sudden loss of a loved one is hard. The abject grief and sorrow can hit like a ton of bricks driving you deeper into the earth with seemingly no way out. If you are fortunate enough to be able to surround yourself with family and friends that can certainly help one find their way back to the light. In Sebastián Lelio's A FANTASTIC WOMAN, after losing her partner a transgender woman living in conservative Chile finds nothing but ridicule, hatred and suspicion.
It's easy to take the LGBTQ fight for equality for granted as the United States has grown more excepting and inclusive of the gay community. However, there are still countries around the world that have yet to reach that level of acceptance. In Lelio's film it really boils down to one family's disapproval of a family member's choice of a lover and when that person dies all of the pent up resentment comes pouring out. Generally speaking, the family's depicted behavior and actions doesn't reflect the pulse of the country but certainly represents the misguided intolerance of a certain minority. In the film, the fact that a family would sink to such shameful lows during such a trying time is infuriating even more so if one knows anyone who has had the misfortune of having to live through such events. All Marina wants is time. Time to grieve, time to prepare and time to move on. However, Orlando's family just wants her out of their lives and out fast.
Lelio rightfully doesn't pull any punches in depicting the shame which Marina, wonderfully played by Daniela Vega, is subjected to. Many awkward and uncomfortable situations occur throughout the film and will frequently have one posing the question of just what would they do in the moment. Hopefully one will have the strength and resolve to face each instance head on as Marina does in the film. Marina is a woman who knows who she is, has accepted what she has become and had a man in her life who loved her. She is constantly pushed to her limit, a limit where others may have already broke, yet she exudes confidence and patience as she holds her head high even when she feels like bowing it in shame. She exhibits an admirable strength of identity, conviction and purpose.
Daniela Vega stars as Marina Vidal. Vega gives a potent yet restrained performance as a woman who is trying to balance her grief and desire for common, human decency. It's not about the fact that she's a transgender woman, that's who she is, it's about compassion, civility and empathy during tragic times. With every roadblock Vega gives a layered performance as she does what she can to keep things civil while she holds on to her dignity. An example of this occurs during a scene where Marina is pretty much coerced into participating in a police investigation. The way the police handle the situation with such insensitivity and disconnect will likely leave a pit in one's stomach. However during the scene you can see and feel the thoughts and emotions bubbling within her. On the surface it looks like she has resigned to the humiliation but upon closer look she appears more annoyed and frustrated. Thanks to Vega one is likely to feel annoyed and frustrated with the crap constantly hurled her way.
Sebastián Lelio directed and also co-wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborator Gonzalo Maza. It's a well paced story which never lays things on to thick or kowtows to maudlin sentiment. With Marina Vidal they have written a memorable flesh and blood character full of strength, compassion and dignity that one hopes to see her inspire others to find the conviction to stand up for what's right and be who they are meant to be. Lelio had undoubtedly put a great amount of faith in Daniela Vega, in only her second feature role, which instilled a level of confidence to allow her to deliver an award-worthy performance. A FANTASTIC WOMAN is an apropos title as Marina more than lives up to the label and Vega certainly lives up to it as well.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal