Directed by: Sebastián Lelio
Starring: Daniela Vega, Franciso Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Saavedra, Amparo Noguera
LGBTQ+ cinema is absolutely thriving at the moment. With films like ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Call Me By Your Name’ garnering some of the top awards, and 2018’s ‘Love, Simon’ already attracting plenty of positive buzz for bringing a gay love story to a mainstream, teen audience.
‘A Fantastic Woman’ sadly had a very limited cinema release in the UK, despite it getting a lot of positive reviews following its inclusion in the London Film Festival line-up last year. After picking up the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year however, it is likely there will be a second wave of interest, and that can only be a good thing.
Marina (Daniela Vega) is a trans woman who works as a waitress and moonlights as a nightclub singer. After the tragic death of her boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes), Marina faces a huge amount of prejudice from his family as she struggles to come to terms with her own grief.
It is perhaps cliche to say, but ‘A Fantastic Woman’ is truly fantastic, anchored by an incredible performance from Daniela Vega. Having a trans actress in the leading role is essential for a film such as this, and she brings a huge amount of emotion and passion to the role. We spend almost the entire film with Marina, and Vega is simply magnificent; she emotes so much through her eyes and facial expressions, maintaining a sense of stoicism, resilience and defiance that is beautiful to watch.
Told almost entirely through her eyes, this is very much the world as Marina sees it. It never shies away from the prejudice that she experiences, but yet it also veers into dreamlike fantasies. However, as we spend so much time with this character and experience the world through her eyes, when it veers into the surreal, it never feels out of place. The excellent score from Nani García and Matthew Herbert has certain fairytale qualities to it as well, which suits the tone perfectly.
The film does an amazing job of highlighting the daily struggles of trans people; the offensive language used is designed to shock and appall. Despite this however, the film feels incredibly dignified in its portrayal of a trans woman and despite the moments which are hard to watch, it feels uplifting and triumphant as well.
Vega’s performance is really the glue that holds this film together, but the direction of Sebastián Lelio also deserves a huge amount of credit. Frequently focusing close-up on Daniela Vega’s face ensures that she is able to deliver such a powerful and resonating performance, and the camera treats her with all the dignity and radiance that she deserves.
Simultaneously portraying emotion and stoicism from both Vega, and the film as a whole is what makes this film truly unique. There are some utterly mesmerising sequences, and this is easily one of the most compelling characters seen on screen in a long while. To find a fault in it, the ending is perhaps a little unnecessarily vague, but again, when viewing the film from the viewpoint of Marina, we can perhaps understand why elements of the story were glossed over.
This is an important film in highlighting the beauty and bravery of a trans woman, and it is so refreshing to see an actress in the leading role who embodies all of these things. ‘A Fantastic Woman’ is simply that; fantastic.