A FANTASTIC WOMAN — Review by Moira Sullivan

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A Fantastic Woman (“Una Mujer Fantastica”, Chile 2017)) opens on the expanse of the majestic and torrential flow of the Iguazú Falls located on the borders of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Its visually moving beauty is photographed by Benjamín Echazarreta and eloquently accompanied in a flute and harp composition by Matthew Herbert who scores the film. The cascade of water plummets from several sides of the mountain ridge, creating a massive vortex called “Garganta del Diablo” – the “Devil’s Throat”. Mist emanates in slow motion from this voluptuous wonder as it hits the rocks below. It is surprising that this marvel is named for a malevolent force, but this is also the paradox of the dramatic development in this well-crafted and poignant film. Continue reading…

The water scenes fade and blend with a long shot of the supine body of Orlando (Francisco Reyes) relaxing in the heat of a sauna in a kaleidoscope of rose, lime, and aqua lighting. The sauna is followed by a deep massage in this Santiago spa called Finlandia. At a moonlight nightclub a woman sings– “Your love is like yesterday’s newspaper” by Héctor Lavoe – “Periódico de ayer”. The night is hers, Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), who is presented with a musical birthday cake and a promise to visit Iguazú Falls with her lover Orlando. This is a woman empowered in her identity and by love as we hear Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”. Yet, it is to be their last evening together when Orlando suddenly takes ill.

Sebastián Lelio’s soulful drama about Marina and the abusive treatment she receives by Orlando’s family after his untimely death is hard to witness. With aplomb and integrity, she fields the invasive inquiries about how Orlando died. Not only is Marina not permitted to be with Orlando in the hospital as his partner, she is subjected to a police inquiry and a strip search to determine if there is any evidence of foul play towards Orlando. The dog given to her by Orlando is taken from her by one of his sons, she is forced to quickly leave the apartment they shared and turn over the car to Orlando’s ex-wife. Marina is moreover prevented from attending the wake and funeral, which she protests is a basic human right. Marina’s skills include the ability to question the ignorance of transphobic relatives and turn it back on them. Surely Orlando would have been ashamed by how his partner was treated in his death by greedy and disrespectful relatives.

The brilliance of this film is in the hands of Sebastián Lelio who cultivates a captivating performance of Marina by Daniela Vega, a Chilean actress and transwoman. Marina is a classically trained vocalist and performs the arias “Ombra mai fu” (Handel) and “Sposa son disprezzata” by Geminiano Giacomelli, sung in the film by Vega. Sebastián Lelio wrote the screenplay with Gonzalo Maza. The film is produced by Juan de Dios Larrain and the excellent Chilean director Pablo Larrain. Co-producer Maren Ade directed Toni Erdmann , FIPRESCI award at Cannes (Germany 2016). A Fantastic Woman is nominated for best foreign language film at the 2018 Academy Awards. Why it should win is the stunning visual and lyrical craftsmanship of a narrative about a transwoman played by a transwoman, following performances by Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Huffman, and countless others in the film history.

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