A FANTASTIC WOMAN — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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As an ardent admirer of Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria, about a mousy 50-ish divorcee and office worker who yearns for romance but only on her own terms, it was no surprise that his A Fantastic Woman similarly managed to take my breath away while viewing the world through female eyes.

But while Gloria employed bittersweet humor to warm its heroine’s presence, A Fantastic Woman assumes a cooler noir-like stance in defining its main character. In this case, it’s singer-waitress Marina, a stunning, gifted and strong trans woman who refuses to be ignored by the family of Orlando, her older male lover (Francisco Reyes) as they angrily block her right to grieve alongside them after she witnesses his sudden death from an aneurysm. To them, she is a deviant, a non-entity. Elevating this effort is the casting of an actual trans actress, Daniela Vega. No Eddie Redmayne-style flouncing a la The Danish Girl needed as Vega provides an alluring authenticity to Marina’s plight. With a mesmerizing face that flashes with a kaleidoscope of emotions, she mostly keeps her cool under the ugliest of circumstances – until she is ultimately pushed to the edge on the day of the funeral.

While she has her supporters – a sister, a singing teacher, her boss and Orlando’s understanding brother – Marina does what she can to stand up for herself while coping with overwhelming grief, the loss of her home and car, humiliating treatment at the hands of legal authorities and torment — both verbal and physical — by Orlando’s relatives. Lelio cleverly employs mirrors and reflective surfaces to capture the difference between how others see her and how she sees herself. Music also helps to bolster the drama, especially an on-the-nose but clever use of Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman as well as Marina’s own wondrous rendition of a Handel aria.

Chile’s entry in the foreign-language Oscar race is considered the front-runner. But even if A Fantastic Woman doesn’t win, Vega’s performance is a prize for anyone who sees this timely, ground-breaking and moving portrait.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.