Chile’s Oscar-nominated “A Fantastic Woman” is a modern twist on the kind of Douglas Sirk or Joan Crawford movies of the 1950’s about women in torment. Those were stories of women forced to suffer indignities but who never lost their own dignity and glamour. In the mid-century, “the problem that has no name” described by Betty Friedan had not yet led to the women’s movement, and women in film and in real life often felt invisible, as though all women cared about was keeping the house clean and the children happy. In this film, our heroine is a trans woman named Marina, played by a trans actress, Daniela Vega. The story is about her struggle to be seen for who she is and for all that she is. Continue reading…
“I didn’t think anyone was here,” says the son of Marina’s lover, who has used his key to barge into the apartment they shared without knocking and announces he is taking their dog. For Marina, still in shock from the sudden death of the man she loved, this is just one of a series of encounters intended to do more than ignore her — they are intended to erase her. It is not just that her lover’s adult children and former wife are embarrassed to acknowledge that he was in love with a young trans woman. They do not want to acknowledge that she existed. They do not want her at the funeral. They want her to vacate the apartment immediately. The police, the doctor at the hospital, the social worker and the doctor she insists must examine Marina for evidence of abuse — all find a way to diminish and misgender her. Even someone close to her has to be reminded to put on his glasses so he can see her clearly.
Throughout it all, Vega suffers exquisitely. Others try not to see who she is, but Marina is entirely secure in herself and in the love she shared with the man who died. In one of the film’s most striking scenes, Marina uses the refusal of the world to see her as a protective cloak of invisibility, to allow her to pass from one strictly gendered sanctuary, the women’a locker room of a sauna, to another: the men’s. In order to reclaim something that means a great deal to her, she will temporarily erase the core of her being, an essential self she has fought very hard to claim. Vega’s face as she makes her way from the towel-under-the-arms women’s locker room to the towel-around-the-waist men’s locker room is a brilliantly layered mix of emotions.
In more than one scene, reflections show us characters as doubles. This movie is a double of its own, with art and life reflecting one another so that we see not just Marina but also Vega for the fantastic women they are. — Nell Minow
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Susan Wloszczyna: 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. Read full review.
Marilyn Ferdinand: I don’t expect to see a better performance this year than trans actress Daniela Vega’s in A Fantastic Woman. The story of Marina Vidal, a young trans woman dealing with the death of her older male lover, doesn’t offer many surprises: Orlando’s family tries to exclude her from their formal grieving while expressing their disgust with her. Against this unpromising set-up, Vega creates one of the most fully realized, complex characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Her electrifying portrayal honors Marina’s strength and stubborn insistence on being acknowledged, while she and Chilean star Francisco Reyes generate the kind of love and heat that makes their characters’ romance believable and completely satisfying. A Fantastic Woman is in contention for a Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, and it has Vega to thank for that.
Betsy Bozdech Daniela Vega delivers an outstanding performance in Chile’s Oscar-nominated drama about Marina, a transgender woman whose life is thrown into chaos after her boyfriend’s unexpected death. Faced with suspicion, hostility, and distaste by everyone from hospital workers to her boyfriend’s angry, intolerant family, Marina somehow manages to retain her dignity and sense of self. What she wants, more than anything, is to be able to live her life on her terms, and she holds on to her truth with every fiber of her being. Writer/director Sebastian Lelio’s drama is ultimately not just about tolerance — plenty of the supporting characters “tolerate” Marina while simultaneously having no idea what to make of her deep down — but about true love and acceptance of our fellow humans, all of whom have their own unique, often heartbreaking stories.
Pam Grady: Trans actress Daniela Vega delivers a knockout performance as Marina, a singer and waitress wrestling with two body blows: the sudden death of her older lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) and its ugly aftermath. It is bad enough that the police get involved in what is a natural death, subjecting Marina to both questioning and humiliating physical examination, but his family quickly erases all traces of her from the apartment she shared with Orlando, refuses to recognize her loss, and even denies her the small comfort of letting her keep Orlando’s dog. What emerges in Sebastian Lelio’s drama is a moving depiction of grief, resilience, and transcendence.
Nikki Baughan: Transgender actress Daniela Vega puts in a phenomenal, mesmerising performance as Chilean nightclub singer Marina, whose already challenging life is turned upside down after the death of her older boyfriend. This poignant tale of grief, loss and societal alienation is directed with warmth and sensitivity by Sebastian Lelio, and is both powerful cultural statement and emotionally involving human drama. This year’s Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language film is fantastically well deserved.
An outstanding portrait of bravery and resilience in the face of unconscionable bigotry. Daniela Vega is powerfully moving, honest and unapologetic about the truth of who she is, even as her reality challenges the preconceptions of others. Authentic onscreen representation such as this is so essential to increasing sympathy and understanding. That this is also a damn fine drama at the same time is icing on the cake.
Anne Brodie: Chilean transgender actress Daniela Vega grabs us by the heart and doesn’t let go in Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman. She is Marina, a waitress and torch singer who has had a tough life, given her choices in the conservative social climate of her country. She falls in love with Orlando, a divorced older man, played by Francisco Reyes, who loves her back. They envision long, happy lives together, he encourages her to bring out her true nature, and comforts her for all she’s endured, and loves her. Finally Marina believes she has found peace. Tragically, Orlando collapses and dies in hospital, along with their bright future. In order to settle his estate, Marina must deal with his ex-wife and family and various authorities who make it plain that she is persona non grata, even in her pain. She’s judged, disdained and tossed aside. The miracle of it is that she is able to carry on and remain true to herself, knowing how deeply she was loved. In fact this is the ultimate love story. Vega’s stellar performance, her natural expressiveness, dignity and authenticity carry the movie to a higher plane.
Esther Iverem: “A Fantastic Woman” is a subtle and gripping portrait of grief, as well as pettiness and cruelty from others, that can accompany the sudden death of a loved one. Daniela Vega is absolutely mesmerizing in the role of Marina.
Jeanne Wolf: A tsunami of emotion propels A Fantastic Woman in an unforgettable performance by Daniella Vega. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the transgender actress who plays a young singer struggling to find acceptance after she loses the man she loves. While the story doesn’t quite match Vega’s scene stealing performance it delivers a heady mix of comedy and tragedy in unexpected ways. Just what you’d wish for from Chilean director Sebastian Lelio who first shook up audiences with his devastating portrait of a divorced woman in the critically acclaimed Gloria.
Jennifer Merin In offering a intmate glimpse into the life of transgender Marina Vidal, played so brilliantly by transgender actress Daniela Vega, A Fantastic Woman delivers insight and elicits compassion from audiences of all genders. Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s masterful presentation of the story is extremely affecting. I’m very happy to see this film as an Oscar contender for best Foreign Language Film.
Cate Marquis Daniela Vega’s performance as Marina is dignified, vulnerable and breathtakingly, bracingly inspiring to watch. In one scene, director Lelio creates a visual metaphor for Marina’s situation and character, in which she walking into the face of a rising wind, as the landscape around her deteriorates. It is beautifully shot and Marina all the time she maintains her composure and keeps moving forward.Read full review.
Title: A Fantastic Woman
Directors: Sebastian Lelio
Release Date: February 2, 2018
Running Time: 104 minutes
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Screenwriter: Sebastian Lelio and Gonzalo Maza
Distribution Company: Sony Pictures Classics
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferinand, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf
Edited by Jennifer Merin