- Product Rating -

A Fantastic Woman

| February 3, 2018

The uptick in LGBTQ representation in film as of late is amiable, aspirational, and at times inspirational, but it really is just GQ representation most of the time—maybe LGQ representation on a good day. A Fantastic Woman thankfully is not just a necessary movie, but it’s also a touching one. While it may not reach all of the heights of its potential, it’s in turns joyous and jittery, vibrant and violent, stressful and secure. Held down by a wondrous performance from newcomer Daniela Vega, its exploration of identity and social anxiety is at times like Almodóvar by way of Hitchcock, the film’s idiosyncrasies often as welcoming as its star herself.

In Santiago, Marina (Vega) lives with her boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes), who one day quickly becomes sick, suffers an aneurysm, and dies. As shock turns to grief, Marina has to deal with not only the fluidity of her emotions, but also with Orlando’s family, including his ex-wife Sonia (Aline Küppenheim). With Sonia’s resentment towards Marina stemming from a sense of romantic insecurity and exacerbated greatly by her transphobia, Marina struggles to cope with Orlando’s death while his own family prevents her from having any association with them or events involving his memoriam. During development, writer/director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria) cast Vega, who then acted as a consultant on the script as it was written, implementing her personal experiences into the film, given Vega’s being a trans woman in real life.

Lelio approaches a majority of the film with a pacing style similar to the protagonist’s stream of consciousness, allowing the audience to float through the film along with Marina over 104 minutes. It’s an experience that is planted in reality, albeit punctuated by moments of ambiguous. Nevertheless, the ways in which it transitions between the two planes are subtle and, again, rooted in realism. Cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta, who worked with also Lelio on Gloria, grants the film a soft, day-glo aesthetic in some of its most pivotal parts, the rest of the film regularly making use of reflections through mirrors, glass walls, and windows, creating a subtle kaleidoscope of shadows and shapes that often find themselves interconnecting, almost serendipitously. It’s never distracting, though, thanks to the soft sense of control that Lelio and Vega impart upon the rest of the movie, injecting every interaction that Marina has with a sense of trepidation as she endures an entire spectrum of aggressions, ranging from micro to macro but always fully present. As aspects of the plot towards the end tend to feel somewhat inconsequential or undercooked, but it’s the execution that acts as their redemptions.

But A Fantastic Woman is Vega’s vehicle throughout. There’s a firmness to her eyes that alternates between innocent and intimidating, and despite the drama at hand, she never resorts to overacting. The vulnerabilities that she makes visible are touching in a sort of way that most films lack due to a corresponding lack of humanity, and the aspects in which she stands at once limp and tall makes for something as internal as one would hope given the subject matter. It’s made all the more impressive given the fact that the film is only her second, and it hopefully won’t take too much time before her third comes around.

Ultimately, the flaws within A Fantastic Woman are those of Lelio as a writer, with two or three scenes feeling a bit extraneous and one segment towards the middle demonstrating a sharp decline in pace. But with all of the realism—the beauty and the brutality absorbed and endured by Marina and by the viewer—he and Vega craft something of a personal anthem of a film. Despite some stumbles, the movie rejects the ways in which underdog stories are seen as a machine to churn out emotions, hand-crafting them and placing them into a jewelry box. But this box doesn’t have a bow to hold its lid on at all times, for better and for worse. (But mostly for better.)

About the Author:

Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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