Fantastic Woman review Daniela Vega Francisco Reyes MorandeYear: 2018
Director(s): Sebastian Lelio
Writer(s): Sebastian Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
Region of Origin: Chile

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 104 mins

Synopsis: A transgender woman is bowled over by the death of her boyfriend and cruelly cast aside by his prejudiced family. (Source)

It’s hard enough, coming into our own and getting comfortable within our own skin. Imagine, then, what it’s liked to have our identity stripped from us, to be treated less than human and unvalidated for being true to ourselves. A Fantastic Woman is a fierce look at this concept, a vivid portrait of what one transgender woman has to face not just on a daily basis, but in the shadow of insurmountable personal tragedy. Sebastian Lelio’s film isn’t just timely and beautifully rendered, it’s a heartfelt plea for common decency in our modern times, and a reminder that the world can be a pretty unforgiving place. Still, despite the film’s at times harrowing acts leveled at its titular character, the film is a tribute to the resilience of an unyielding woman. Star Daniela Vega gives a performance that is unmissable, resulting in a film that isn’t merely seen but absolutely felt.

Marina (Daniela Vega) is a waitress by day, aspiring singer by night, and object of affection to her older lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes). She means the world to him, and it’s clear that together, they’re complete. Without warning, Orlando suffers a fatal aneurysm, and Marina’s world is rocked. The wrench in this story, is that Marina is also a transgender woman, and when Orlando’s family prepares to mourn their loss, they’re unable to cope with who she is, doing everything they can to hide her like a dirty secret and make sure that she isn’t a part of the family’s mourning. As Marina jumps through numerous rings of fire to mourn the man she loved, the world’s oppression begins to take its toll. If there’s one thing she is, however, it’s a fighter, and she’ll do whatever she can rise above the limitations cruelly thrust upon her.

After a brief time with Marina and Orlando, the film pulls the rug out from under us, exchanging tender moments for an onslaught of painfully humiliating vignettes. It’s here where Lelio crafts an almost day-in-the-life type structure, following Marina like a fly-on-the-wall, as she’s constantly second-guessed and put down by those who refuse to understand her pain or perspective. As she grapples with Orlando’s family and a desire for closure, Lelio doesn’t pull back on the abuse leveled towards Marina, but also begins to paint a bigger picture of the strength even she might not know lies within her. Coupling Marina’s grief with frustration, rage and even hopelessness, her torment begins to ultimately transform into something greater, becoming a testament to her courage in the face of constant adversity. Through it all, Lelio punctuates tension with beautiful moments of surrealism, giving the film a dreamlike tone that deftly handles darkness, light and everything in between.

Fantastic Woman Daniela VegaAside from Lelio’s skill behind the camera, it’s Vega’s raw talent in front of the lens that reminds us of what’s at stake. From the moment we meet her, Vega’s Marina is an undeniable presence, one that we get to view both inwardly and outwardly. Vega captures a complexity that is rare and natural, rising beyond a victim archetype and into someone who shines a bright light in an inarguably dark time. From the pain she manifests in her eyes, to the light she carries within, Vega embodies emotional and thematic extremes, going through nearly the entire breadth of human experience with earth-shaking power. Opposite, Francisco Reyes is a bright spot of compassion in the brief moments he’s on screen, while Luis Gnecco’s Gabo offers a tormented middle ground amidst Nicolas Saavedra’s Bruno, who delivers a brutally hostile antagonist.

A Fantastic Woman couldn’t have come at a better time and it shines with incendiary purpose. Daniela Vega’s performance, along with Lelio’s conviction is a source of inspiration and a gift to cinema. Above all, however, the film is a beautiful portrait of how darkness is everywhere, but that love and hope transcend gender, prejudice and even death.