A Fantastic Woman (2017)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Sebastian Lelio

VP Content Ratings

Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Rated R. Running Time 1 hour 40 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex Nudity 4.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

My beloved is mine and I am his;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.

Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
or a young stag on the cleft mountains

Song of Solomon 2:16-17

Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life?

For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James 4:14


Oliver & Marina are deeply in love. (c) Sony Pictures Classics 

This year’s “Best Foreign Language” Oscar winner, Chili’s Sebastian Lelio’s film is also the first such winner to feature a transgender star in the lead role, Daniela Vega. Another outsider film, the script and star capture the disoriented, anguished feeling of society’s exclusion during a painful period of grief.

Marina Vidal and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) are deeply in love despite their difference in age and her change of sex preference. She is a waitress and nightclub singer in her late twenties, whereas he is the divorced owner of a textile company in his mid-fifties. One night after engaging in sex he becomes sick and falls down the stairway, bruising himself badly. Marina rushes him to the hospital, but he dies of an aneurysm. She calls his brother about the sad incident.

Her feeling of exclusion begins at the hospital, with the doctor refusing to regard her as related to the dead man—and he keeps referring to her as a male, not accepting her change. Because of the bruises, the police have been called. The first policeman, suspicious of her, treats her coldly, and the female detective from the Sexual Offenses Investigation Unit (Amparo Noguera) is even worse. Assuming that prostitution and a lovers’ quarrel are involved, she forces Marina to undergo a degrading physical examination that includes stripping down so that the evidence of her transgenderism is exposed. (The camera spares us this, stopping its downward tilt at waist level.)

This hostile treatment pales before the cruel indifference that Orlando’s family exhibit toward her. His son Bruno (Nicolas Saavedra) keeps forgetting Marina’s name, and when he sees her unpacked luggage in the apartment, the couple having just decided to live together, he demands that she move out as soon as possible. Orlando’s ex-wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim) barely manages to conceal her contempt when she offers Marina money to stay away –and that includes from the wake and the funeral. The only member with a shred of compassion for how the grieving lover feels is the brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco). However, his offer to give her some of Orlando’s ashes is accompanied by the request that she stay away from the ceremonies.

One of the brilliant touches in this film is the use of Aretha Franklin’s song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” on the soundtrack. Having seen enough of the loving relationship between Marina and Orlando, we gain a fresh perspective on the song, its lyrics perfectly expressing Marina’s feelings. The world, as represented by the hospital doctor, the disapproving police, and Orlando’s disgusted family, may not accept their relationship, but for Marina it is genuine, giving her a sense of purpose, or as the song puts it:

“When my soul was in the lost and found
You came along to claim it
I didn’t know just what was wrong with me
Till your kiss helped me name it…”

Intriguing also is the conversation between Marina and her music teacher/coach, Profesor de Canto. He tells the troubled woman, “Love isn’t something you search for,” and goes on to say, “Saint Francis says, ‘Make me an instrument of your love, make me a channel of your peace.’”

Although Marina does not undergo the same fate as Hilary Swank’s murdered Brandon Teena in the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, her fate is nonetheless heart-rending. The film is not political but given the controversy over the American president’s attempt to ban transgenders from serving in the military, it certainly has political implications. The film’s searing portrayal of an outsider’s vulnerability, of her being excluded from ceremonies by which she could say goodbye to her loved one and thus relive somewhat the sorrow over her loss, helps us understand those whom we regard as “different.” Even viewers whose religious beliefs lead them to condemn the transgender lifestyle ought to gain a measure of sympathetic insight into the plight of “the other.”

This review with a set of questions will be in the April 2018 issue of Visual Parables.


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