A Fantastic Woman
Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 drama follows a young trans woman struggling with both her own grief and societal prejudice after the death of her older lover.
From Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, whose Gloria provided an indelible portrait of a woman adrift, comes this incisive character study of a different nature. Marina (Daniela Vega), the transgender heroine of the Oscar-winning TIFF 2017 selection A Fantastic Woman, is plunged into a precarious situation after her boyfriend dies unexpectedly in her company.
Fifty-seven-year-old divorcé Orlando (Francisco Reyes) wakes in the middle of the night, suffers an aneurism, and falls down some stairs, sustaining injuries that will come to haunt Marina after she takes him to the hospital and attempts to slip away before authorities and family members begin prying. Marina knows she’s regarded with suspicion for her youth, class, and, above all, gender. She expects to gain little from Orlando’s demise, but the viciousness of Orlando’s son, the cold-heartedness of Orlando’s ex-wife, and the intrusiveness of a detective from the Sexual Offenses Investigation Unit force Marina not only to clear her name, but also to demand the very thing no one seems willing to give her: respect.
Making subtle nods toward Almodóvar and Fassbinder, Lelio — whose films The Year of the Tiger, Gloria, Disobedience, and Gloria Bell have also screened at the Festival — suffuses his scenes with an air of subversive noir, emphasizing Marina’s quest to prove she is not the femme fatale her adversaries make her out to be. A Fantastic Woman is an alluring exercise in style, a smart spin on the genre, and a much-needed entry into the category of films that move trans characters from the margins to the spotlight. The film’s Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film (now Best International Feature) in March 2018 had political weight, too: the Academy’s recognition of A Fantastic Woman revived a bill that had been suspended in Chile’s legal system for years. In September 2018, the country’s congress passed the so-called Gender Identity Law, which allows people over the age of 14 to change their name and gender on official documents.
“Driven by a powerhouse performance by mesmerising transgender actress Vega, the fifth feature from Sebastián Lelio combines urgent naturalism with occasional flickers of fantasy to impressive, and wrenchingly emotional effect.” –Wendy Ide, Screen Daily
Content advisories: transphobic violence and language, nudity, coarse language