MOVIE: A FANTASTIC WOMAN
STARRING: DANIELA VEGA; FRANCISCO REYES; LUIS GNECCO
DIRECTED BY: SEBASTIAN LELIO
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
At the center of A Fantastic Woman is the theme of how important our identity means to us. The subject of identity continues to inspire artists, no matter how sure people can be with themselves, it is a path they want to dissect constantly, and reveal what makes humans tick. This past year alone, films such as Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Princess Cyd, and Call Me By Your Name, navigate the landscapes of what people go through to find out who they are. And one of the best yet is A Fantastic Woman, the story of Marina (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman who must face painful grief when her lover passes away, and the rejection from his family as she tries to pick up the pieces. It's a somber, emotional, and gorgeous piece of cinema that anyone can relate to, no matter how you identify with yourself. To be human is to appreciate this film.
We don't see Marina at first. We hear her booming operatic voice, singing beautifully with a salsa band at a nightclub. On the side waiting for her to finish the set is her lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes). The two have dinner, share some laughs, and longingly hold one another in a dancing embrace. The affection they have is a case of tunnel vision. There may be plenty of people bumping into them, disco music blaring, but they only see the one they adore in front of them. They head back to their apartment, make love, and in the middle of the night Orlando tragically has an aneurysm. Marina's efforts to rush him to the hospital fall short as he passes away soon after. Marina's life is crushed, as she is subjected to ridicule from the doctors at the hospital, and disdain from Orlando's family.
Director Sebastian Lelio and co-writer Gonzalo Maza have constructed a narrative that truly allows the audience to walk in Marina's shoes. It also helps that Lelio made the right and perfect decision to cast the lead role with someone who is transgender, something that Hollywood has failed to do in the past. The performance from Vega is, for lack of a better word, fantastic. She is a total powerhouse and quite possibly the biggest snub from this years Oscar nominations. One of the only flaws of A Fantastic Women is a slight lack of other supporting characters that could have elevated it to perfection.
After Marina loses Orlando, she's missing a chunk of herself and the protection from those who fail to accept her for who she is. Doctors refuse access in the hospital, family members refuse to let her attend the funeral, and they immediately want her moved out of her apartment. All of this pain is visible on Vega's face, through her tears, and clenched fists. It's a performance that all casting directors should take notice of her prowess.
It also leads back to the theme of identity, especially when cinematographer Benjamin Echazarreta beautifully frames Marina. Looking at her reflection in a mirror, separated from others in a room, or focusing on her face in her time of need. Her world is constantly and intrusively trying to force her into a cis normative box, rejecting her authentic self and ignoring her true identity. Eventually, Marina's battle is why A Fantastic Women is essential viewing for everyone. It's unfathomable for me to believe that anyone who has a soul would not watch this film and feel empathy for her and anyone else in the transgender community. A Fantastic Women is a thing of beauty.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady