Arts movie review

How do you deal with the loss of a loved one?

‘A Fantastic Woman’ explores one possible road of life

8467 6
Daniela Vega stars as Marina Vidal in 'A Fantastic Woman.'
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

A Fantastic Woman
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Screenplay by Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza
Rated R
Releasing in theaters Feb. 23

Transgenderism can be a topic some people tiptoe around. In the backdrop of Chile, this Oscar-nominated foreign language film explores it in a slow-moving, yet very real way.

Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega) is a transsexual woman, waitress, and aspiring singer. Orlando (Francisco Reyes) is her much older romantic partner. On the night of her birthday, Orlando takes her out to dinner before returning to their flat to celebrate further. Then, in the middle of the night, he falls ill and must be rushed to the hospital, where he promptly passes away; here starts Marina Vidal’s journey of self-preservation in the face of adversity.

Orlando’s son, Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra), abruptly invades Marina’s life, throwing insults and demanding that she leave his father’s flat as soon as possible, or else he’ll be forced to kick her out himself. But this is only the beginning of the son’s questionable actions, and the end is a violent one.

Unfortunately for our dear protagonist, this is only the beginning of her troubles with Orlando’s family. Orlando’s ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), bars Marina from attending Orlando’s wake and funeral and slowly tries to wean her of his possessions by first asking for his car and then asking her to leave Orlando’s flat.

The film progresses like this throughout its entirety, showing how one life decision can cause so much controversy. However, the film is not all about adversity. It does a good job of showing how different kinds of people react towards Marina’s presence and how she still maintains her identity and individualism with courage and empathy. Some people are confused when they meet her. Some politely acknowledge Marina’s choice. Some become monsters by attempting to vilify Marina. Then, there are the ones who truly accept Marina to the point that she feels comfortable being around them, or maybe she feels uncomfortable because she doesn’t understand their unwavering acceptance.

It’s interesting, yet also horrifying, to see the film throw so much at Marina. It confronts questions that I ask myself as a transgender male: will there be people who will treat me with violence? Will there be people who will see me as a human being or as a monster? Will I ever truly fit in and pass happily as the gender I choose to be?

Throughout the movie, you can see Marina struggle with these questions as she passes through obstacle after obstacle. The world feels like a colder place without the comforting Orlando by her side, but it is her memory of him that helps her push forward and reminds her that she can be loved and accepted, rather than being constantly viewed as something inhuman.

For some, this movie may seem slow and very linear. It focuses on Marina’s day-to-day ongoings as she deals with Orlando’s death and the suspicions thrown at her from all sides following it, yet there is still a lot to appreciate. Lelio champions a raw, compassionate look at Marina’s slice of life, and the nominations for his work and Daniela Vega’s performance are well-earned.

There are many moments in which Marina stares at herself in the mirror, as though reaffirming her confidence and acceptance of herself. In these moments, I see myself in her shoes, and it makes me feel grateful for the way the film handles her hopeful individualism and defiant beauty as a fantastic woman.