MOVIE REVIEW: A Fantastic Woman




If there is an overused term to describe exceptional female acting performances in films it’s the adjective “brave.”  There is a pause point where one needs to ask if the performance is brave or the person?  Where are the risks being taken?  In this era of #MeToo and battling back against inequality and marginalization, this writer will argue that “bravery” is an automatic trait of any dedicated actress that puts their heart, soul, and body completely into their work.  They handle roles and take on challenges their male counterparts can’t or won’t face.  

LESSON #1: THE DEFINITION OF BRAVE-- Let’s dissect the adjective definition of our word.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary reads “having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty” and “having or showing courage.”  Audiences will need to go beyond “brave” to describe and complement the shattering performance of Daniela Vega starring in A Fantastic Woman.  Searing the screen with moments of serenading song and ever-present fortitude, the openly transgender Chilean actress and model seethes with uncommon determination.  Saying “good for her” is not enough praise.    

Director Sebastian Leilo’s follow-up to his award-winning Gloria is Chile’s nominee and one of the favorites for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards.  The film may not be entirely sweeping and captivating, but all can marvel at Vega’s lead performance of pure poignancy.  Opening on the crashing and falling water of Argentina’s Iguazu Falls, the imagery, backed by fluttering flutes composed by electronic musician Matthew Herbert, foreshadows an unrealized inner dream and stands to also symbolize a painful descent that will follow in the film.  

Chilean soap opera veteran Francisco Reyes is Orlando, a textile factory manager smitten with a lounge singer named Marina (Vega) who is over thirty years his junior.  Dining, dancing, and sharing their affections, the two are madly in love, unrestrained by any taboo.  Initially feeling weak and out of sorts after a night of passion, Orlando is rushed to the hospital by Marina and dies of a brain aneurysm.  

Losing her “honey,” heartache and vulnerability swallow Marina’s emotions at a time when the death investigation surrounding Orlando’s death and the machinations of his final affairs expose their unspoken relationship to his disapproving family.  Treated like a squatter and a fling rather than a respected lover, Marina is bounced from her temporary home and separated from her beloved pet dog.  Often walking in montages of establishing shots and transitions or presented against the self-identity symbolism found in mirrors, Marina does her best to stand tall.  She seeks closure to her distress and a propelling step forward in her life and potential career now without her biggest supporter and companion.

LESSON #2: THE DEFINITION OF SCORN-- Circling back to Merriam-Webster, “scorn” typifies “open dislike and disrespect or derision often mixed with indignation” or “an expression of contempt or derision.”  More often than not, scorn is the strongest reaction targeted on Marina, despite complete innocence from deserving such contempt.

The mental elements are the source of this film’s touchpoints of empathy.  Vega’s body language and facial strength speak volumes in nearly every scene she commands as the closeted introvert longing to express her talent and beauty.  One cannot help but observe the demeaning treatment beset on Marina and find and feel a reaction of compassion.  In doses of hard truth, the unbearable difficulties outnumber moments allowing triumph and happiness and the minor musings occur more than serious questions.  The film is bold, but still slight.  

To that end, A Fantastic Woman is a morose portrait that is easy to appreciate yet difficult to fully embrace.  The beauty would have been watching more of the love story between Orlando and Marina before his sudden passing.  Deeper establishment in that area would have made the downward spiral and tribulations all the more heart-wrenching.

LESSON #3: DON’T TAKE A WOMAN’S DOG-- In encountering Orlando’s family, Marina isn’t trying to leech any share of any assets.  Beyond any labels or affirmations, all she wants is the animal companion they shared.  Come on.  Give a lady back her beloved pet.  

LESSON #4: MOVING ON FROM THE LOSS OF A LOVER-- No matter Marina’s orientation, she feels grief all the same as anyone else.  Poetically stated in A Fantastic Woman, Orlando and Marina represented an “instrument of love” and a “channel of peace” for each other and their respective hearts.  Having such a bond, no matter who it’s with, is a beautiful thing.