Directed by: Sebastián Lelio | 104 minutes | drama | Actors: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Amparo Noguera, Trinidad González, Néstor Cantillana, Alejandro Goic, Antonia Zegers, Sergio Hernandez
Orlando Ornetto (Francisco Reyes) and Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) are madly in love. It does not matter that there is a large age difference, they accept each other as they are. They live together in his apartment and make pleasant plans for the future. But a sudden stroke throws a spanner in the works. Orlando dies and leaves the beautiful waitress and singer Marina with intense grief. However, there is no time and space to mourn and give it a place. Several of Orlando’s relatives have never accepted the relationship between the two lovers. Not because of the age difference, but because Marina is a transgender woman. Everything Marina loves is taken from her without any empathy: the car, the apartment, shepherd dog Diabla and it is made all too clear to her that she is not welcome at the funeral. Marina (fortunately) does not accept this and fights for justice.
If you didn’t know that a transgender person is central to this beautiful film, the surprise effect would be enormous at first. As a viewer you catch yourself in awe: was Marina called Daniel in the past ?! That gender does not determine who you are or want to be is exactly what director Sebastián Lelio wants to draw attention to in ‘A Fantastic Woman (2017)’. The Chilean filmmaker has succeeded with (rainbow) flying colors in portraying a fantastically courageous woman who has to endure a lot of headwinds but does not give up and stands up for her own rights.
Day in, day out, Marina has to prove her femininity to the outside world and that goes beyond wearing skirts, jewelry or make-up. Based on different situations or habits, Lelio knows how to demonstrate in a nuanced and sensitive manner how confrontational or hurtful it can be for a transgender person to, for example, visit the (women’s) toilet, show an identity card or undergo a body examination. Also the blunt, disrespectful comments of Orlando’s family (when I look at you I don’t know what I see) cause a lot of misunderstanding and a feeling of impotence.
Lelio, known from ‘Gloria’ (2013), likes to focus in his films on themes that bring about a new, interesting view of modern society. With ‘A Fantastic Woman (2017)’ the director hopes that people will see reality from a different perspective and in this way broaden their own empathy. Daniela Vega’s powerful acting debut allows viewers to experience, through Marina Vidal, what it means to be transgender. In reality, the actress is also transgender and knows better than anyone how ruthless the environment can be if you do not fit into the “normal or desired picture”. She knows how to convey the character and the diverse emotions of Marina extremely credibly and poignantly. In addition, her sensational singing provides (extra) admiration and compassion.
‘A Fantastic Woman (2017)’ premiered in February 2017 at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Teddy Award (LGBT Prize) for Best Feature Film and a Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. Rightly so, the film is impressive right down to the thoughtful and colorful credits.