A Fantastic Woman (2018)

270 A Fantastic Woman

Today’s cinematic space promotes themes of inclusion and the embrace of the marginalised. Recent Oscars, and no doubt this year’s, will continue to reflect this trend. The ‘T-folk’ in the wider LGBT community encompass a variety of people who do not exclusively identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. The social isolation of gender transitioning is at the heart of the Chilean produced A Fantastic Woman (2017), an empowering story of extraordinary courage.

Singer and waitress Marina (Daniela Vega) has been approved for gender reassignment surgery and is comfortable with her new identity. Long-term older and wealthy lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes) falls ill one night and Marina rushes him to hospital where he fails to survive a brain aneurysm. From that moment forward, there is an eruption of latent contempt for Marina from Orlando’s family, the medical profession and police. Orlando’s ex-wife and family pour out their blame, scorn, and shame over his relationship with someone they regard as an aberrant lifeform: neither man nor woman, but a “chimera”. The medicos do not acknowledge her rights to bereavement or involvement in proceedings and insist on using her pre-transition name. The ex-wife wants the car and the flat and has also planted doubts about possible criminality in the minds of local police. Through it all, Marina suppresses her hurt and isolation, determined to survive with her identity and dignity intact.

Given the simplicity and predictability of this situation-driven plot, what justifies the film’s title? The cruel treatment to which Marina is subjected appears less so because it comes from people whose responses are understandable given the stressful and unconventional circumstances. The family’s anger is natural; the medico’s confusion normal; and the police suspicion expected. We wince at their insensitivity but see why it is so. Awaiting transition surgery, Marina is socially a woman but legally a man. Society has no space for her, yet this stoic, androgynous beauty carries the weight of other people’s inability to accept difference. It is a powerful portrait of existential isolation.

The cinematography is near poetic at times, and casting Daniela Vega as Marina is a stroke of genius. The authenticity of the film lies in the fact that Vega is herself transgender and her essay on emotional isolation is transparently genuine. Her physicality dominates the narrative and she fills much of the screen for most of the time. The camera never doubts she is a fantastic woman: strong, beautiful, and passionate. It also never doubts how and why such acts of exclusion occur. This exploration of the transgender experience is both masterful storytelling and an eye-opening experience.


Director:  Sebastián Lelio

Stars: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco