A Fantastic Woman

(Una Mujer fantástica)

2018 Academy Award winner - Best Foreign Language Film

A Fantastic Woman is at once a straightforward story of self-assertion and defiance and a complex study of the nuances of identity. Marina (Ms. Vega) is a waitress and sometime cabaret singer who lives in Santiago, Chile with her lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes).

Poster for the Oscar-nominated drama A Fantastic WomanLike the heroine of Mr. Lelio’s previous film, Gloria, Marina insists on her own dignity – her basic rights to respect, safety and the pursuit of pleasure – in the face of condescension, indifference and contempt. Their situations are not identical: Gloria is a middle-aged, upper-middle-class, divorced mother; Marina is young, transgender and from a modest background. But they both rebel against a patriarchal society that pushes them to the margins and expects them to be content with a half-invisible, second-class status.

When Marina takes Orlando, who has suffered an aneurysm, to hospital, she is treated less as a person than as a problem. Doctors and security officers use the masculine pronoun to refer to her, and pepper her with prying, suspicious questions. After Orlando dies, she is visited at work by a detective (Amparo Noguera) whose due diligence slides into harassment and humiliation.

Orlando’s former wife and adult son deny Marina’s love for Orlando and her right to mourn him. She is barred from his funeral and threatened with eviction from the apartment they shared. As things get uglier, Marina is increasingly unprotected and alone.

It would be absurd to minimize the political impulse and import of A Fantastic Woman, or to universalize its specific, precisely observed depiction of injustice. Marina is, to some degree, a representative woman, whose experiences reveal a deeply held prejudice hardly limited to Chile. But Mr. Lelio and Ms. Vega are less invested in her symbolic status than in her living presence. She has a charisma that defies pity and a sense of poise that can be both intimidating and heartbreaking.

Psychologically astute and socially aware as the film is, it is also infused with mystery and melodrama, with bright colours and emotional shadows. Almodóvarian and Buñuelian grace notes adorn its matter-of-fact melody, and its surface modesty camouflages an unruly, extravagant spirit. You may not realize until the very end that you have been gazing at the portrait of an artist in the throes of self-creation.

– A.O. Scott, The New York Times

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