The death of a partner is shattering, even more so when it comes completely out of the blue. And that’s the situation confronting Marina (Daniela Vega), the titular A Fantastic Woman, whose lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) collapses with an aneurysm and, in minutes, is dead.
Agony enough, in itself. But theirs is a relationship which his family has refused to acknowledge, let alone condone, for what they believe to be a clutch of good reasons. There’s the age gap for one: he’s much older. He runs a textile company, she’s a waitress and an aspiring singer. Worst of all – for them, anyway – is that she’s a transwoman and, in their eyes, a freak, an abhorrence and an obscenity. They do everything they can to stop her attending his memorial service, funeral and cremation. They also want her out of his flat PDQ.
That’s not the end of her pain. As it was Marina who took him to hospital and was given his personal effects, she comes under scrutiny from the police. With an ID card that’s still in her masculine name, she’s treated with suspicion and profoundly humiliated by a physical examination. Adding insult to injury, it’s organised by the officer dealing with sex crimes. That the couple were in love is simply beyond the authorities’ comprehension: there has to be more to it than that and Marina is eventually asked if Orlando used to pay her.
The slings and arrows coming her way are many, vicious and painful yet she still manages to conduct herself with a powerful combination of defiance and dignity. Her determination is apparently limitless, so much so that she eventually prevails. Despite verbal and physical abuse – including a deeply disturbing scene when she’s abducted by Orlando’s son and his thuggish mates – she still manages to dust herself down, hold her head high and have what’s hers, anything from her own possessions in the flat to her own life.
Vega is outstanding in the title role, with all the strength, vulnerability and emotional truth required of her. It’s a sensitive portrayal but, most importantly, a human one. Her feelings are as valid as anybody’s but Chilean society regards and treats her as a lesser being who’s not entitled to emotions of any description. The film stands or falls by Vega, but she carries it totally on her shoulders and, because of her performance, it stands tall. She, and the film with its sombre view of the world, deserve all the plaudits going.
The title is double edged. Marina is fantastic in the sense that she’s different, of another world in the eyes of others, but also fantastic in the contemporary way: awesome in her courage, spirit and determination not to be pushed aside. As the film progresses, her sexuality fades into the background. We are simply watching and admiring an indomitable person. Even if A Fantastic Woman does not move you to tears – and it probably will – it will move you. And you may even see the world in a slightly different way.
Freda Cooper |
Drama | 15 | UK, 2 March (2018) | Curzon Artificial Eye | Dir. Sebastian Lelio| Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Kuppenheim, Nicolas Saavedra.