In this stirring portrait of grief and resilience, Daniela Vega’s poignant interiority saves a film too caught up in its exterior. Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman features Vega as waitress and singer Marina Vidal, a trans woman left grieving after the death of her older boyfriend, Orlando (Francisco Reyes). When Orlando’s family find out about Marina, they forbid her from attending his funeral, compounding the frustration and heartache she is already so tenderly enduring.
The whole film hangs on Vega’s phenomenal control of her expression. A slight turn of her shoulder and a flickering half-blink say more than dialogue ever could. The athleticism of her performance recalls the fine-tuned mannerisms of Rachel McAdams, who tellingly leads Leilo’s next film, Disobedience, his first English language feature.
A Fantastic Woman’s first act is an eloquent introduction to the deep care and desire present in Marina and Orlando’s relationship. In an early scene, Marina drunkenly leans full weight against Orlando’s shoulder, tossing her arm in the air to activate a hallway motion-sensor light. This simple action becomes one of many small gestures made splendid by Vega’s grace.
After Orlando’s death, Marina is again and again confronted by contempt from those around her, ranging in form from lingering stares to outright derision. In one scene, Marina rejects Orlando’s son’s insensitive questions about her genitalia. How unfortunate then, that the strength of Marina’s rejection is quickly undermined by the camera’s invasive preoccupation with her body.
The attempts others make to humiliate Marina are afforded too much consideration and grow exceedingly redundant as the film goes on. However, watching Marina contemplate her reactions in a refusal to be deterred from closure is, in and of itself, utterly fantastic.
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