Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original title: Una Mujer Fantastica
Chile/Germany/Spain/USA, 2017. Participant Media, Fabula, Komplizen Film, Muchas Gracias, Setembro Cine, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, ARTE. Screenplay by Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza. Cinematography by Benjamin Echazarreta. Produced by Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain, Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza. Music by Nani García, Matthew Herbert. Production Design by Estefania Larrain. Costume Design by Muriel Parra. Film Editing by Soledad Salfate.
Marina (Daniela Vega) is a young singer and waitress who is happily in love with her older business owner boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes). On one particular night they enjoy a nice evening of dinner and dancing that ends in tragedy when, late in the night, Orlando wakes up feeling ill; by the time reach the hospital, he dies of an aneurysm and plunges Marina into a harsh reality with challenges appearing on all sides. Orlando’s ex-wife, with whom he only broke up a year earlier, is asking for her ex-husband’s car to be returned, and, it soon becomes clear, her identity as his wife as well, open in her distaste for the fact that Marina is trans and going well out of her way to delegitimize their relationship in any way possible, including forbidding Marina to attend the funeral.
Orlando’s son is more aggressive, demanding his apartment back and taking her dog, then escalating his threats when Marina pushes back against the family’s insulting behaviour. A further, refreshing element that makes this film that much smarter in relating a society’s obtuse inability to accept Marina as a functional and, for lack of a better word, “normal” citizen is a plot strand that shows allies who are just as big a problem for her: Orlando’s death brings attention from a Sexual Crimes Unit police officer who refuses to believe that our heroine isn’t a drug-addicted victim of abuse since she can’t conceive of any other reason that an older, successful man would date her (and has the audacity to use her Masters degree as proof of intellectual authority in the matter).
The intelligence with which Sebastian Lelio tells this story is matched by the grace with which he films it, allowing beautiful, bright colours to permeate the cinematography without ever taking away from the film’s darker or more tragic moments. His probing of Marina’s life is delicate without being intrusive, charting her journey toward finding her footing as her own confident self despite the challenges on all sides. This film is as subtle and sublime as Lelio’s Gloria but replaces that one’s adorably quirky humour with a wise and ironic sympathy, a great deal of which is possible thanks to Daniela Vega’s marvelous performance in the lead. As elegant in displaying her emotional experience as Lelio is in capturing it with his camera, Vega is commanding and powerful without ever overplaying her hand, letting the audience know her inner life even when the character is fiercely protecting it from the conflicting situations she faces so frequently.
Academy Award: Best Foreign Language Film
Berlin Film Festival Award: Best Screenplay
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film
Toronto International Film Festival: 2017