THE STORY – A transgender singer faces scorn and discrimination after the sudden death of her older boyfriend.
THE CAST – Daniela Vega & Francisco Reyes
THE TEAM – Sebastián Lelio (Director/Writer) & Gonzalo Maza (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes
By Matt N.
To say that “A Fantastic Woman” is a fantastic film with a fantastic performance by Daniela Vega is both too on the nose and an understatement. This Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Nominee is a deeply heartfelt and packed with emotion both in Vega’s performance, the representation which she gives the transgender community and the universal message of love and respect for one’s basic human rights. While the storytelling is not as tight as I would have preferred, “A Fantastic Woman” is still a riveting story that is worthy of its Oscar Nomination.
Marina (Daniela Vega) is a transgender waitress and singer who is involved in a loving relationship with an older gentleman named Orlando. With big plans for their future ahead, Orlando suddenly becomes ill one night and unfortunately dies shortly after being brought to the hospital by Marina. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion by doctors, the police (Who expect there might have been foul play involved in Orlando’s death), and Orlando’s own family members. Some don’t want Marina to attend the funeral. Others are threatening Marina with being kicked out of Orlando’s apartment, thus leaving her homeless. Others are kind and considerate towards her grief but with her world now shattered, she finds herself fighting against society to persevere and to simply exist, as every human being has the right to do so.
The number one takeaway with “A Fantastic Woman” is the magnetic, transfixing and truly astonishing performance by Daniela Vega. Without her, this film would not nearly be as great as it is. It’s a true testament to her vulnerability, grace, bravery, strength and subtlety that the performance ranks up there with some of the best work seen in 2017. With every glance, gesture, and sound of her voice (Both through dialogue and singing), Vega gives us a character that we have such compassion for.
A representation for transgender people on-screen, we see through her interactions with her past lover’s family members just how far we still have to go as a society when it comes to accepting and respecting transgender people and their basic human rights. Screenwriters Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza do a great job of showing the varying degrees to how a person like Marina is accepted and treated within a modern day society. Some family members are compassionate towards her while others disgrace and ridicule her. We even see this same level of distrust outside of the family in the form of the police who suspect she might have had something to do with Orlando’s death. It’s repulsing and aggravating in how authentic these interactions feel and they go a long way towards making us questions ourselves in how we view the world.
Director Sebastián Lelio employs a few narrative devices that work while others feel sluggish. There is a fantasy sequence where Marina is seen singing and dancing on stage with a lot of lights, costumes and backup dancers which is beautiful and uplifting. Equally mesmerizing is a scene where we see Marina walking down the street and fighting against the wind as it continues to blow her back. However, instances, where she has visions of Orlando feel forced, for we have seen this cinematic device commonly used and there is little payoff to it.
References towards “The Crying Game” and even “The Elephant Man” strengthens the argument that “A Fantastic Woman” not only plays well for audiences but that it should be seen by the widest audience possible. Its message of love and acceptance is one that the world needs right now, whether you realize it or not. Plus it features a brilliant performance from Daniela Vega that is both elegant and spellbinding. I may take issue with some of its pacing in the third act or its usage of storytelling cliches to express its themes of grief but on the whole, “A Fantastic Woman” is for lack of a better word, fantastic.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A fantastic performance by Daniela Vega. A beautiful and humanistic story which portrays a point of view rarely seen on film.
THE BAD – Some pacing issues in the third act. Dream sequences are hit or miss.