A Fantastic Woman movie review: Sebastián Lelio tells touching story of a transwoman

Nandhu Sundaram

October 20, 2017 16:00:04 IST

4.5/5

The 19th edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival is finally here, and with it comes an unending list of critically acclaimed Indian and international films to watch. Some of these are submissions for the Oscars, while others are hitherto untold, hyperlocal stories. Firstpost will review the most promising of these films.

A Fantastic Woman, the Chilean entry at the Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival, was a rare lyrical and meditative piece in a fest that had its share of sex, gore and graphic violence. The story traces the events in the life of a transwoman after she abruptly loses her lover. Daniela Vega delivers an empathetic and stunning performance as the transwoman, Marina Vidal as she copes with her crushing loss. The film explores the issue of sexual identity and how we look at people who are different from us as being “perversions”.

A still from A Fantastic Woman. Image from Twitter/@muchadocinema

A still from A Fantastic Woman. Image from Twitter/@muchadocinema

The film has to, of course, combat all of history’s prejudice against and disgust at transwomen. This is amply evident in a scene where Marina is kidnapped by a group of men, who put tape on her face to shut her up. She is a bar singer and waitress and finds refuge in her singing teacher.

Orlando Ornetto, played by Francisco Reyes, is the older man that Marina is in love with. The film begins with a sequence in which Orlando is hunting for tickets that he has booked to visit a waterfall – one of the natural wonders of the world as he calls it. The romantic trip is his birthday treat to her in addition to cake and dinner at a classy restaurant.

The film, in fact, begins with several shots of the waterfall, and we expect the visit to become a comeuppance and redemption for Marina after Orlando’s death, but that is a chimera as Marina herself is accused by Orlando’s ex-wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim). The scorn with which Sonia and her son Bruno treat Marina is chilling as they both question her very identity.

After Orlando dies of a fatal aneurysm – and getting grievously injured while tumbling down the stairs on the way to hospital – an anguished Marina is treated with suspicion by the law and even the doctor. This may have been a man that only Marina truly loved, but she now has to defend his memory and herself.

An inquiry is opened by the Sexual Offences Investigation unit, which seems lawless in itself. While the woman law officer assures Marina of support, we are sure that she is lying through her teeth. Marina is subjected to a humiliating physical examination during which her private parts are photographed.

Daniela plays Marina as a headstrong, defiant woman determined to survive in a world that is so determined to be against her. But she is also vulnerable, afraid and full of pent-up rage, which she is exorcising by boxing and jogging. She dresses carefully and wants to be attractive without throwing her sexuality around.

Director Sebastián Lelio’s biggest achievement is in directing his heroine. Working closely with each other, director and actress infuse the role of Marina with warmth and empathy.

The movie will be lovingly welcomed by the LGBTQ community, especially as Daniela, a transwoman, was cast in the movie. In one shot, Marina is lying naked on the bed, a mirror between her thighs as her face peeps into it. In another, a mirror carried by labourers on a road offers a reflection of Marina as she checks herself out.

The implications are clear; we are asked to treat Marina with respect, and by the time the film ends, we do learn to.

Updated Date: Oct 20, 2017 16:00 PM