BFI London Film Festival: A Fantastic Woman

A Fantastic Woman
A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica)
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Starring Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra and Amparo Noguera
Screening at LFF October 6th, 10th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

“Saying goodbye to a loved one when he dies is a basic human right, isn’t it?” Marina asks. As she is denied this right, an overt allegory of trans rights and treatment in modern society unfolds in A Fantastic Woman. It is a story not only of prejudice, but of grief, in which a transgender woman’s feelings are not only denied, but so is her right to exist.

Using little subtlety in its imagery, but much in lead actress Daniela Vega’s performance, director Sebastián Lelio has given a voice to one of society’s marginalized women; much like he did with his previous film Gloria, an empowering coming-of-age tale of a middle-aged divorcee. A Fantastic Woman has a more serious and somber tone than its predecessor, but shares many commonalities: A woman on the path to discovering her self-worth, gaining her independence and her voice in a patriarchal society from which she strays from the ‘normative’. Lelio’s distinct visual style and soundtrack selection remain prominent and pertinent to telling this story.

After her partner Orlando passes away, Marina (Vega) tries to do right by his family. She first reaches out to his brother Gabo (Gnecco), the only member of the family to treat her with some respect. She experiences prejudice from every side – immediately in the hospital from the doctors treating Orlando, from the police who are called as they suspect her of something untoward, and from Orlando’s family who cannot accept her for who she is. Orlando’s ex-wife Sonia (Kuppenheim) goes as far as calling her a “chimera”, even as Marina shows nothing but courtesy and politeness to the woman she refers to as “normal”. Orlando’s son Bruno (Saavedra) has the most anger and disrespect directed toward Marina, kicking her out of the apartment she shared with Orlando, stealing their dog, and psychically and emotionally humiliating her.

The daily obstacles and prejudice that Marina must face isn’t the only side to A Fantastic Woman. The character is given room to breathe throughout in scenes where she’s simply allowed to be herself. At work, in her apartment on her own, with her sister, and even in the sequences with Orlando before he passes. You get a fully-rounded portrait of this woman, in all her glory and her struggles.

The imagery in A Fantastic Woman is a reminder of how people see Marina versus how she sees herself. Mirror after mirror is scattered throughout the film as Marina looks at her reflection much differently to how others look at her. She without a doubt sees herself as a woman, while nearly everyone else refuses to, often referring to her as “he” or by her given name “Daniel”. At first the mirror imagery may seem to be a simple metaphor, but the way Lelio uses it is pertinent. One scene in particular is quite ingeniously setup as Marina sits nude with a mirror between her legs, looking at her face’s reflection, obscuring her genitals. It’s not only a portrayal of her inner turmoil, but a test for the audience to remind us of what matters about this character. This scene denies the ‘normative’ audience what they normally feel entitled to, mirroring an earlier scene with Bruno as he asks Marina if she’s had reassignment surgery, to which Marina curtly responds, “You don’t ask that.” And the movie never does.


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