A Fantastic Woman
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 4 October 2017
LFF 2017: Compassionate study of a trans woman's grief, from Sebastián Lelio
Very early on in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio's compassionate study of a trans woman in mourning, a man rudely enquires if she's had 'the operation'. Marina (Daniela Vega) responds with indignation, advising him never to ask that question. Throughout the entire film Marina is dehumanised by people who make assumptions about her and is continually made to feel like trash by the family of her older lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes), who dies suddenly from an aneurysm.
Emotions run high in the days following Orlando's death, with his son, ex-wife and the police inflicting a brutal character assassination on Marina. Lelio (Gloria, The Sacred Family) whisks the viewer through her grief with both gorgeous and haunting imagery that recalls the work of Pedro Almodóvar and Xavier Dolan. A burst of fantasy featuring choreographed dancing where the performers are draped in sparkles pierces the anguish wonderfully.
Lelio pushes his camera uncomfortably close to Marina's face and Vega's performance is nuanced and commanding, whether she is quietly serving customers at the restaurant where she works, pouncing on the bonnet of a car in a rage, or singing her heart out on the stage. The musical numbers that bookend the film are elegantly shot in opulent locations by DoP Benjamín Echazarreta, who slowly zooms out to reveal the bigger picture. Lelio teases the viewer, almost daring us to gawp at Marina the way many of the characters in the film do.
The focus is on the individual experience, showing how grieving is a personal process. With her confidence knocked, the film attempts to put the viewer in Marina's bewildered headspace as she questions herself and the way people see her. Distorted reflections appear throughout, exposing insecurities, but Marina strides along, strong and determined, despite all the hurdles placed in her way.
Screening on Fri 6 and Tue 10 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 2 Mar.