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A Fantastic Woman

A beautiful, powerful film featuring a stunning performance from trans actress Daniela Vega.
By Imogen Baker
February 22, 2018
By Imogen Baker
February 22, 2018

Sebastián Lelio's A Fantastic Woman has been unexpectedly popular with the pundits, which is great for two reasons. For starters, it's always encouraging when foreign language films are financially successful. But what's even better is that the film offers a sensitive, uplifting portrayal of a transgender protagonist. After taking home a deluge of awards, there's no doubt that A Fantastic Woman is a serious contender to win Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards. Frankly, it's just a shame it wasn't nominated for Best Picture

The story follows Marina Vidal, played by trans actress Daniela Vega. We meet her partner Orlando, played by Francisco Reyes, on the evening of her birthday, and get a glimpse into their tender, hopeful relationship before it all comes crumbling down. Orlando, who is a fair bit older than Marina, wakes up feeling sick – and although she rushes him to the hospital, it's all too late. The bulk of the film takes place in the aftermath of Orlando's death, as Marina is forced to deal with his family as they tear strips off her from all angles.

It can't be overstated how wonderful it is to see transgender representation on the big screen (no offence Eddie Redmayne, but this is how it should be). Vega's performance as Marina feels authentic, in no small part because it is authentic. Every movement, every delivery is subtle, considered and real. To convey the character's mental state, Lelio oscillates between realism and magical realism, maintaining an elegant balance that ensures neither style feels heavy or overdone. And all the while, his leading lady is mesmerising in every scene.

One of the most heartwarming elements of this film is the relationship between Marina and Orlando. It's sweet, romantic, sexy, like a healthy relationship should be. It's neither fraught nor kept secret – and while the depiction of it shouldn't feel remarkable, it absolutely does. A Fantastic Woman does great work capturing a spectrum of light and shade, love and grief, without relying on excessive violence or grim stereotypes that are so common in cinema about marginalised groups.

That's not to say that this film doesn't contain disturbing scenes. Marina experiences more than her share of abuse and menacing microaggressions, enough to set your teeth on edge. And yet she's never portrayed as a helpless victim. Leilo's narrative realism and restraint, coupled with Vega's captivating performance, are proof that you don't need to use shock and awe tactics to have an impact.

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