A FANTASTIC WOMAN (Una Mujer Fantástica)
Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Screenwriter: Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/25/17
Opens: February 2, 2018
At first when you see Marina (Daniela Vega) with her boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes), you might think, “Hey, this guy is old enough to be her father.” But wouldn’t it be cool is that were the only problem! What’s not at all a problem for most of us who are watching the movie is that Marina is a transgendered woman, whose original name was Daniel. This does not pose a dilemma until the poor man has an aneurism while in bed with Marina, falls down the stairs and is severely bruised, and is taken by Marina to the hospital. This is where Marina is faced with hostility from the hospital attendants to a detective (Amparo Noguera), from Orlando’s former wife (Aline Küppenheim) and her son (Nicolás Saavedra). “A Fantastic Woman” is directed by Sebastián Leilio, who in his métier, as a previous work, “Gloria,” deals with a devil-may-care sixty-year-old woman and her relationship with a naval officer she meets in a club.
Like “Gloria,” “A Fantastic Woman” is filmed in Lelio’s home town of Santiago, Chile, some parts of which can easily pass for a tourist brochure, particularly a scene with a large fountain in Neptune Fountain Park. Ms. Vega, who appears in virtually every frame, must stand up to the forces of condescension and hostility from those who knew the departed well. The contempt is shared by the detective who insists on calling Marina into the hall while she is working as a waitress and cabaret singer, implying that she had something to do with Orlando’s death.
There are melodramatic scenes that punch up the fear and loathing of the woman by people who do not want publicity suggesting that Orlando, the owner of a printing establishment, would have an affair with such a “pervert” Melodramatic incidents include a demand by Orland’s son that she vacate the apartment, leave the beloved dog with the son, and simply get out of their lives. Poignant scenes show Marina dancing with Orlando, later patronizing a club where nobody knows or cares that she’s a trans-woman. Seated nude in one scene, showing her breasts but covering “lower parts” with her legs, she virtually challenges us to wonder whether the surgery has been complete. She does have a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice which she uses on stage in a concert, accompanied by her piano teacher and a string quartet.
In this casually paced film, director Leilo seeks to uncover Marina’s variety of emotions, but at no time is she so despondent that she appears to surrender to an ignorant society’s hate.
Rated R. 104 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online